VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate asked for the Virginia State Police to take over the investigation into the police shooting of Donovon Lynch at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront last Friday.
He issued a statement with this announcement Tuesday afternoon before a special meeting and public briefing requested by members of Virginia Beach City Council following Friday’s shootings.
“The Lynch family and the involved officer each deserve a comprehensive and thorough investigation into this incident, and we appreciate the public’s patience as we pursue every facet of it,” Neudigate said in the statement.
In an update Monday night, police said Lynch brandished a gun when police came into contact with him in the 300 block of 20th Street. The medical examiner says Lynch died after gunshot wounds to the torso and thigh.
A firearm was recovered at the scene, but Lynch’s father told WAVY’s Andy Fox he owned a security company and was legally allowed to carry.
The officer involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which is standard procedure, police said. He has been with the department for five years and is assigned to its special operations division.
The Virginia Beach NAACP branch released a statement Tuesday after Neudigate’s announcement about the state police involvement in the investigation:
“The Virginia Beach NAACP Branch was pleased to hear during today’s City Council Special Session that the investigation into the shooting death of Mr. Donovan Lynch will be handled by the Virginia State Police.
This branch was not pleased with the previous statement by Chief Neudigate stating that a gun was found in the vicinity of the incident. His failure to also state that Mr. Lynch was a legally licensed gun owner was an attempt to shift the perception of the public’s view toward Mr. Lynch. The police department has access to gun permit/licensure information, so the Virginia Beach Branch NAACP has no reason to believe the intent was other than malicious. This is one of the reasons an external agency was requested by the branch.
Furthermore, Chief Neudigate complaints of understaffing, equipment preferences, and equipment on back order is nothing new. The police force has been understaffed for years. However, the Virginia Beach Branch NAACP will not allow our focus to be watered down by those organizational objectives.
Our inquiry is two-fold . Why was Mr. Donovan Lynch shot on March 26, 2021? And why did the police officer who shot Mr. Donovan Lynch not activate his Body-Worn Camera?Virginia Beach NAACP branch President Dr. Karen Hills Pruden
At the meeting Tuesday when Neudigate announced state police would take over the investigation into the officer-involved shooting, he also gave additional details about the other shootings Friday night at the Oceanfront.
Those shootings left multiple people injured and two dead.
Oceanfront shootings timeline
First incident at Atlantic Avenue & 20th Street
“I will now give you an update starting with the one on Atlantic and 20th. We know from our investigation that we have five males that were observed firing handguns that gun fire struck nine individuals — six males and three females. Of the three females, one is still in serious condition and it is anticipated she will be hospitalized for quite some time,” Neudigate said. **See editor’s note at bottom of the story for additional information about the number of victims.
He said a 2nd Precinct officer who was there during that first shooting chased and apprehended one suspect in the 19th Street hotel parking lot.
Neudigate said they’ve charged three people in the shooting so far, and from interviews, he said they know these suspects are associated with two local gangs.
He said they recovered 14 guns from this incident alone.
On Tuesday, police announced they had arrested three more people on charges relating to selling weapons to convicted felons.
Second incident on 19th Street
After discussing the first shooting, Neudigate spoke about the incident on 19th Street where 28-year-old Deshayla Harris was shot and killed.
He said Harris and her friends were walking on the south sidewalk on 19th Street just past the south lot entrance when she was hit.
He said a Virginia Beach officer tried to save her, but it was too late.
There is still no suspect in her case.
“The current status of the investigation is now focusing on an exchange of gunfire between multiple parties in the 19th Street north, just to give you a picture of what that would look like: 56 shell casings were recovered, three firearms were recovered, nine vehicles struck by gunfire,” said Neudigate.
The medical examiner said Harris suffered a gunshot wound to the head.
Third incident on 20th Street
Lastly, details in the officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of Donovon Lynch were discussed.
The medical examiner said Lynch died from gunshot wounds to the torso and thigh.
Neudigate said on Monday, police were able to interview both officers at the scene. One was the involved officer and the other was a plainclothes detective who responded to the first shooting.
He said they are still reviewing cameras and body cameras to see if anything caught what happened, but at this stage in the investigation he said there is no video evidence. Saturday night, Neudigate held a briefing on the shootings where he revealed that the officer involved did not have his body camera activated for “unknown reasons.”
“I don’t think an officer who just got here for five months should be in front of every camera when something happens. We have a mayor and a vice mayor, you are the leader of our city,” stated City Councilman Aaron Rouse.
Virginia Beach Police body-worn camera protocol
City Council members dug to get more information on why the involved officer’s body camera was not on, and the protocols surrounding the cameras in general.
“So the officer didn’t have an activated body camera as it relates to the policy of the department?” asked Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten.
“As we get into it, that will be the focus of the administrative investigation to find out if there were exceptional circumstances, if it malfunctioned, what the exact circumstances are,” Neudigate said.
Virginia Beach purchased body camera technology that would allow to cameras to turn on when officers draw their gun from a holster, but Neudigate said it isn’t being utilized because of issues with current VBPD holsters.
The Virginia Beach City Auditor’s Office said it would analyze body camera activation data following deadly officer-involved shooting Friday.
Virginia Beach Police understaffing
Neudigate said when dealing with violence on this scale, their understaffing issue is a big problem in future police visibility at the Oceanfront.
“We will try to use some dedicated overtime monies to increase staffing. We are also implementing a new two-shift strategy,” he explained.
He said they have six officers dedicated to the Oceanfront. Twelve were there in one zone when the first shooting happened. In comparison, all other zones typically only have one officer.
However, after chaos erupted Neudigate said it took 103 officers to manage the incident.
Now, he said they plan on taking a layered approach as summer gears up.
“This is not a long-term solution; it absolutely is not. We are 100 officers short. Those 100 officers could field a precinct dedicated solely to Oceanfront operations,” Neudigate said Tuesday.
Black Lives Matter 757 leader, Japharii Jones, also sat in on the meeting. He said he believes the answer to less violence isn’t more officers, but instead police and community positive involvement.
“To me it looks like actually talking to individuals who are in the community. We don’t hear any word about community walks, we don’t hear any word about community engagement; all we hear is police, police, police,” said Jones.
Jones said there are many organizations including his that would gladly help organize walks to create better community relationships.
The March 30 VB City Council meeting was livestreamed. You can watch it at this link.
Letter to Council
On Monday night, the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association sent a letter to City Council ahead of Tuesday’s special session.
VBPBA President Brian Luciano said the officers that responded to the Oceanfront Friday night and Saturday morning should be “commended not condemned.”
He added that the violence that “occurred [Friday] night seems to come as a surprise to everyone but the police officers.” He said concerns brought forward by the VBPBA have been “ignored, marginalized, and explained away as mere gripes from ‘disgruntled’ employees.”
Luciano said the city’s police officers need manpower, pay, technology and benefits to make the city safer, and challenged city leaders to provide those resources.
Editor’s note, March 28, 2022: Since the original reporting of this story, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate has said the information given during a meeting March 30, 2021 that nine people were shot and injured and two others were killed at the Oceanfront March 26 was not correct. WAVY confirmed with the chief that eight people were injured and two were killed.