Fatal McLean police shooting was ‘tragic’ but not ‘legally unreasonable,’ auditor says

Media gathered for a briefing on a Fairfax County police officer’s fatal shooting of Jasper Aaron Lynch in McLean on July 7, 2022 (via FCPD/Twitter)

An officer who fatally shot a McLean man in 2022 violated Fairfax County Police Department policies, but the shooting itself was within policy and legal bounds, a new report on the FCPD’s investigation says.

In the report, which was released yesterday (Wednesday), Fairfax County Independent Police Auditor Richard Schott affirmed the police department and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano’s findings that none of the three responding officers violated criminal law when they tased and shot 26-year-old Jasper Aaron Lynch at his home on July 7, 2022.

“I believe the conclusions reached by the department were correct in this case, although I acknowledge they may be difficult to accept,” Schott wrote. “The death of [Lynch] was unquestionably tragic. But that does not mean that the force — even the deadly force — used during the incident was legally unreasonable.”

Though it determined the shots and tasings were “lawful and allowed by departmental policy,” the FCPD’s investigation found that the officer who shot Lynch — identified by police as Edward George — violated other policies by not turning on his body-worn camera during the first of two calls to the house on Arbor Lane and not carrying his taser during either response, according to Schott’s report.

The department requires all officers to activate their body camera when making contact with community members during calls for service, and officers certified to carry an “electronic control weapon” must have it on their person. George had left his taser “in the trunk of his patrol car,” the report says.

An FCPD spokesperson declined to comment on whether George faced any discipline for the policy violations, stating that the department “cannot release details about administrative personnel files.”

No criminal charges against officers

Lynch’s sister and a family friend called the police twice that night seeking assistance for Lynch, who was experiencing a mental health crisis. During the second call, one officer deployed a taser twice after Lynch threw a “wooden tribal mask” at him, according to the report.

Four seconds later, another officer tased Lynch when he began approaching while carrying a wine bottle, which he then dropped. George fired four shots with his handgun, followed by a fifth into Lynch’s neck after Lynch collided with the second officer.

Lynch died at the scene. As described in Schott’s report, the encounter unfolded within a minute of the officers entering the home at 8:52 p.m.

Descano announced on April 5 that his office won’t press criminal charges against the officers, saying they “acted in an objectively reasonable manner, based upon the totality of the circumstances.”

In a statement to media after Descano’s announcement, Lynch’s parents said they were “deeply disappointed and mystified” by the investigation’s findings and length, noting that body camera footage — some of which was publicly released in August 2022 — indicated their son was on the ground and unarmed when George fired the final, fatal shot.

Schott told FFXnow that he didn’t have a comment on the length of the FCPD and commonwealth’s attorney investigations.

Auditor recommends use-of-force policy change

In the report, he recommends that the police department update its use-of-force policy with specific “non-criminal factors” to consider when determining whether an officer is in compliance for incidents involving mental or medical health issues, rather than criminal activity.

“While the preference is that no force is used on an individual who is experiencing a mental health or medical crisis and who may not be engaged in any criminal activity, this recommendation addresses the unfortunate reality that there are times when force will, in fact, be used in such situations,” the auditor wrote. “The recommendation should allow those responsible for reviewing the force used in those situations to more accurately address whether the force was appropriate.”

Citing a 2017 court case that found police could be justified in using force, specifically a taser, to subdue someone having a medical emergency, Schott says the FCPD should consider the following factors when evaluating “whether force was objectively reasonable.”

1) Was the person experiencing a medical emergency that rendered him incapable of making a rational decision under circumstances that posed an immediate threat of harm to himself or others? 2) Was some degree of force reasonably necessary to ameliorate the immediate threat? 3) Was the force used more than reasonably necessary under the circumstances (i.e., was it excessive)?

At the time of Lynch’s death, the FCPD’s use-of-force policy listed eight factors to consider when evaluating a particular incident, including whether there’s an immediate safety threat, the “severity” of the crime that prompted the response, and any weapons involved. But not all of those apply in situations where someone’s experiencing a health crisis, Schott said.

That list was eliminated in a policy update on Aug. 12, 2022. Schott says that was an improvement over only specifying factors to consider in criminal situations, but it still wasn’t ideal. The use-of-force policy was updated again on Monday (April 29), but Schott’s recommendation wasn’t addressed.

“I still think delineating both criminal and non-criminal factors is preferred,” Schott told FFXnow, noting that he had made the same recommendation after reviewing a 2017 tasing and the 2021 shooting of a woman with a knife at a Springfield group home.

The auditor’s report also recommends that the FCPD fully implement its co-responder program “as quickly as possible to potentially avoid another tragic incident like this one.”

Introduced in 2021, the program pairs police officers with trained clinicians from the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board on responses to 911 calls involving possible mental health crises.

When Lynch was shot, the FCPD had just one co-responder clinician. They participated in the initial call for service but weren’t available for the second call because they left to complete some paperwork, Police Chief Kevin Davis said in an Aug. 4, 2022 press conference.

Davis announced at the time that the department would add another clinician on Aug. 8, with the goal of ultimately having 16 to accompany officers, about half of them on duty at any given time.

The program further expanded last fall, bringing the FCPD up to four co-responder teams, a spokesperson confirmed.

“In addition, we also have our Mobile Crisis Unit available when our co-responders are not available,” the FCPD said. “Also, 44% of our officers currently are [crisis intervention team] trained.”

That percentage is actually lower than in 2021, when the FCPD told FFXnow that 46% of its approximately 1,500 officers had CIT training, which teaches police to de-escalate mental health crises. All three of the officers involved in Lynch’s fatal shooting had received CIT training.

Photo via FCPD/Twitter

Read more on FFXnow…

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