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Fairfax Police release body cam footage after man shot dead during mental health crisis

Originally a mental health call brought police to the scene - but they couldn't find the man and left. Officers then responded again without the clinician.

MCLEAN, Va. — Fairfax County Police released body camera footage Thursday of a recent incident in which an officer shot and killed a man experiencing a severe mental health crisis nearly a month ago in McLean.

According to the department, police sent a Crisis Intervention Team officer, along with a clinician from the Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health, to a home in the 6900 block of Arbor Lane for a report of a man, later identified as  26-year-old Jasper Aaron Lynch, throwing objects outside the house just past 7 p.m. on July 7. 

The department claims the pair could not find the man and after searching the neighborhood, they left the scene. It is in the county's model that a clinician comes out with officers to investigate calls related to a mental health crisis.

GRAPHIC WARNING: The video below shows body camera footage from a fatal shooting by an officer. Viewer discretion advised. 

However, after receiving a second call around 8:45 p.m., police returned without the clinician. An officer stopped outside the home to have a discussion with a family member before making contact with Lynch, the department confirmed and showcased in the body camera footage.

The officer referred to Lynch as the woman's brother. She told the officer, along with some others on the scene, that she asked a friend to come by to check on him, but he started shouting and breaking things - something unusual for him - prompting the first 911 call. Their parents were out of town at the time, she said. 

The officer asks if she wants Lynch to be taken into custody for a mental health evaluation. 

"Be aware that's kind of a bridge you can't cross back, because some people don't like the police," the officer says, emphasizing that if they proceeded, they'd have to search and handcuff him and put him in a police cruiser. 

The officers then proceeded to enter the house, after telling the woman that they would attempt to talk to him and see if he wanted to go into custody voluntarily, at her encouragement. She told officers she had some hope Lynch would be receptive, since, at one point, he had asked for the police to be called. She told the officers to enter the home through the front door.

Once inside, the officers began saying hello and using the man's name. Lynch then appears to dash into the room within the view of the body camera and appears to be holding an object - police say he was holding a bottle and a large, decorative wooden mask. 

"Put it down," officers begin to repeat, also saying "it's okay," and asking him if he's alright. Lynch asks if his parents are there. A chorus of voices respond, one saying that he's not in trouble, another saying no and another, calling out, "you asked to call for us - remember?"

At that point, Lynch appears to throw the mask at one of the officers, and then runs toward them while winging the bottle. According to the chief, two of the officers then discharged their taser-like electronic control weapons, while the third shot the man a total of four times.

The officer who shot the man has since been identified as police officer First Class Edward George.

The department said the officers immediately gave Lynch aid, however, he was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were injured in the shooting; however, the officer who shot Lynch is currently on administrative status and won't be patrolling or doing anything else involving public contact, Chief Kevin Davis confirmed.

"We believed that the three police officers who answered the second 911 call could have, and should have, handled this far differently," Lynch's family said in a statement to WUSA9. "To respond to Aaron's mental health crisis by shooting him at all, let alone multiple times, cannot be justified."

After the department showcased the body cam footage in Thursday's press conference, Davis took to a podium to share his comments.

"Police officers here and across our country use force in response to resistance and in response to aggression, and every time we do, our profession takes it more seriously than ever before in our profession's history," Davis said. "On the occasions when police officers use deadly force, it's always a profoundly sad event, and this event is no different."

Davis emphasized how seriously the department is taking the situation and that a thorough criminal and administrative investigation is being conducted in partnership with the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.

The chief said it is the department's policy to release body-worn camera footage within 30 days. This incident's footage was released on day 28, he said.

He also shared that, so far in 2022, the department has responded to 6,700 calls for service for people in mental or behavioral health crises. He said that breaks down to around 33 calls a day across Fairfax County. Davis said his officers use force less than 1% of the time, adding that the department has worked to adopt a co-responder philosophy, which is set to move into phase two on Aug. 8. That program involves a CIT-trained police officer keeping in pairs with a mental health clinician while responding to calls. The program's full implementation would make more clinicians available to respond to calls of a similar nature, the chief explained.

By the time the department hits phase four of the program, they should have 16 clinicians available with eight working at any given time, Davis said. Currently, the department has just one, who is available only on certain days and times of the week. Phase two will bring one more to the force.

WUSA9 asked why the clinician wasn't with officers on the second call when initially reporting on the shooting, the day after it occurred.

“We are going to determine where she was,"  Davis said at the time. "But the nature of the second call was far different than the nature of the first. This happened very, very quickly."

The chief said in the Thursday conference, that by the time the second call came in during the July 7 incident, their clinician who was originally on the scene had already left to complete some administrative paperwork.

Davis said all three of the responding officers were trained in crisis intervention, which involves a one-week specialty course.

When asked why officers didn't try to take Lynch down without deadly force, Davis responded by outlining how the officers attempted to deescalate the situation, and that the use of tasers was a progressive effort to use less than deadly force to handle the situation.

"This is still under investigation," Davis said. "I want to be very careful not to offer any assessments or opinions, but I think it's clear to see from the video that that was a very active and chaotic incident." 

He also added that the department included the initial conversation between the officers and the concerned sister to demonstrate that they "made every effort to ask the right questions."

"We don't just arrive on these scenes when someone's in crisis and - absent any additional information - go in someone's home," he said. "Those days are long gone. So certainly, I think our officers were confronted with a very chaotic and dangerous situation - but again, the investigation is still ongoing."

Chief Davis shared that, although mental health clinicians can certainly result in better outcomes for people in crisis, it likely won't perpetually eliminate the need for use of force. However, he once again emphasized that any level of force on those calls has been used less than one percent of the time this year.

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