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Family of Deshayla Harris suing Virginia Beach for $50M

Harris died nearly two years ago, on March 26, 2021. Police say she was hit by a stray bullet the same night a police officer shot and killed Donovon Lynch.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Nearly two years since a chaotic night of shootings at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the family of a young woman killed in the crossfire persists in their search for answers and justice.

Innocent bystander Deshayla Harris, 28, was hit by a stray bullet on 19th Street near Pacific Avenue. 

13News Now learned on Friday that attorneys for the DeShayla Harris estate filed a federal wrongful death and gross negligence lawsuit against the City of Virginia Beach and a still-unknown gunman.

They are seeking $50 million in damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. Lawyers for the Harris estate are suing on counts of gross negligence, failure to properly train and supervise, excessive force, assault and battery, survivorship, wrongful death, punitive damages and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Attorney Justin Fairfax said the suit is a step to further the fight for justice. 

"We're calling, once again, on the City of Virginia Beach to elevate," he added. 

To this day, no one has been arrested in Harris's death.

"That's even worse to be a mother and don't have the answers to fix your family," said Harris's mother, Elisheba Harris. 

For her, the pain is still fresh.

"I live this day, every single day, I live March 26," said Elisheba, while flanked by Fairfax and Attorney Thomas Martin in a news conference Friday evening.

"It's wrong. No family should ever have to go through this," Fairfax said. 

On that fateful night in 2021, a chaotic night of shootings broke out at the Oceanfront where Harris had been hanging out with friends.

On their way out after believing the area to be unsafe, the civil suit makes claims against police officers. It details "failure to ... create a safety zone for innocent civilians and failure to give instructions and direct innocent bystanders to safety."

While on 19th Street, a single stray bullet struck Harris in the head.

"I wouldn't wish this pain on my worst enemy," Elisheba said. "I haven't even began to heal, and it's two years." 

The wrongful death lawsuit alleges “some evidence reasonably points to the shooter potentially being a VBPD Officer.”

However, Beach police have denied the claim time and again, including in a 2021 news release

Friday night, a city spokesperson sent 13News Now the following statement: 

"The City of Virginia Beach Police Department continues to work tirelessly to bring DeShayla Harris’s killer to justice and wants that as much as the Harris family does. There is no evidence that a Virginia Beach Police officer or a Virginia Beach Officer’s service weapon was involved in the death of DeShayla Harris."

The suit claims, in part, "a stunning lack of transparency" from city officials. 

"Part of the issue is we don't have all of the facts, because so much has been withheld from this family for two years," Fairfax said.

Legal representation for the family sent a letter to the Virginia Beach city attorney, requesting the evidence by last Friday. It read in part, "We are sending this correspondence to obtain the requested evidence before litigation becomes necessary."

"I know my daughter wouldn't want me to give up. She would fight for me. She would fight for her sisters. So, I'm going to fight until I can't fight anymore, even when I get justice, I'm still going to fight," said Elisheba. 

She emphasized that this fight isn't about the money, but rather about the quest for answers. Elisheba firmly believes someone out there knows something about her daughter's death, but just has not yet come forward.

Moreover, the family of Donovon Lynch also filed a wrongful death lawsuit. He was the 25-year-old shot and killed by a Beach police officer on that chaotic night.

Late last year, the City of Virginia and the Lynch family estate, while also respresented by Fairfax and Martin, reached a $3 million dollar settlement. But not long after, Lynch's father withdrew his approval of the settlement.

Mediation is playing out in federal court.

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