Officer Who Shot and Killed Pharrell Williams' Cousin Cleared of Charges By Grand Jury

A grand jury found Tuesday that a Virginia Beach police officer was justified in shooting and killing Donovan Lynch, in a case that has gained increased attention because Lynch is related to the Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams, The Associated Press reported.

Solomon D. Simmons, a Black police officer in Virginia Beach, responded to reports of gunfire at a parking lot on a March night during which several people were injured and at least one woman was killed. Simmons reportedly saw Lynch holding a gun, which Simmons believed he was pointing at the crowd to fire at the people and police officers in the parking lot.

Prosecutors said in a press conference Tuesday that Simmons yelled something at Lynch. He then turned toward Simmons and Simmons shot him.

"There were numerous people in that parking lot when Officer Simmons saw Mr. Lynch starting to come up with the firearm," Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Colin Stolle said. "So it is not only just whether the weapon was pointed at Officer Simmons. It was also — are the people in the parking lot at risk?"

Multiple separate incidents of gunfire occurred near the parking lot and boardwalk before Lynch was shot, which caused Simmons to respond to the scene.

Prosecutors showed footage of the time before and after Lynch was shot during the press conference from body cameras worn by officers at the scene and presented statements from witnesses.

The grand jury decided Simmons' actions were justified because he was acting to protect himself and others in the area.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Virginia Beach, Donovan Lynch, Police Shooting, Pharrell
Scott Lang, Virginia Beach Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, explains footage from police-worn body cameras during a press conference Tuesday in Virginia Beach, Va., about the police involved shooting of Donovan Lynch last March. Stephen Katz/The Virginian Pilot via AP

Lynch's father also filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Simmons and the city of Virginia Beach for allegedly failing to train its officers.

Simmons never explicitly stated that Lynch pointed the gun directly at him, prosecutors said.

Lynch, 25, of Virginia Beach, was an offensive lineman for the University of Virginia's College at Wise during the 2017 and 2018 seasons and a 2019 graduate of the school.

Lynch and a friend were visiting the city's boardwalk, which is lined with restaurants and hotels, on a warm spring night that drew crowds of people.

Prosecutors also presented a videotaped statement from Simmons, whose body camera had not been turned on during the shooting.

Scott Lang, chief deputy commonwealth's attorney, said Simmons turned off his body camera because he began to drive to a hospital for an investigation involving a separate shooting victim. But then another shooting in which 50 rounds were fired in a parking lot broke out, Lang said.

In a videotaped statement, Simmons said he saw Lynch, who "seemed out of place." Simmons said Lynch had a gun and was crouched in the bushes next to the parking lot, where the shooting occurred. Simmons said he heard the distinct sound of a gun being "racked."

"I'm thinking he's going to start shooting into the parking lot," Simmons said.

Simmons said that he said something to Lynch — though he doesn't remember what — and Lynch began turning around before Simmons fired.

Prosecutors also showed a statement from one of the city's detectives who said he also saw Lynch, rising from a crouch with a gun pointed toward the parking lot. The detective said he was preparing to fire his gun before Simmons fired his weapon.

In a lawsuit, Lynch's father, Wayne Lynch, accuses Simmons of shooting his son "immediately, unlawfully and without warning," according to news reports.

Darrion Marsh, a friend of Lynch's who said he witnessed the shooting, told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper earlier this year that Lynch never took the gun out of his cargo shorts.

Lang, the prosecutor, pointed out that police with body cameras arrived at the scene within 25 or 30 seconds. He said the footage did not show Lynch's friend in the immediate area.

Stolle, Virginia Beach's commonwealth's attorney, said he presented the same grand jury information to Lynch's father Tuesday morning.

"They obviously were unhappy with the outcome of the investigation," Stolle said.

Wayne Lynch did not immediately return a voicemail and text message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Fallout from Lynch's death continues to reverberate in Virginia Beach. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Williams had sent a letter to city officials last month that said he won't bring his Something in the Water music festival back to the oceanfront, partly because of how the city handled the investigation into his cousin's death.

Virginia Beach, Donovan Lynch, Police Shooting, Pharrell
Colin Stolle, Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney, speaks during a press conference Tuesday in Virginia Beach, Va., about the police involved shooting of Donovon Lynch last March. Stephen Katz/The Virginian Pilot via AP