Officer will be charged in death of Patrick Lyoya, Kent County prosecutor announces
Funeral for Patrick Lyoya on April 22, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue
On Thursday afternoon, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced Officer Christopher Schurr will be charged with one count of second degree murder for shooting and killing 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya during a traffic stop.
Schurr has reportedly turned himself in and will be arraigned in the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids tomorrow, Becker said.
Benjamin Crump, who is one of the lawyers representing the Lyoya family, is a nationally known civil rights attorney who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Crump called Becker’s decision “a crucial step in the right direction.”
“Officer Schurr must be held accountable for his decision to pursue an unarmed Patrick, ultimately shooting him in the back of the head and killing him — for nothing more than a traffic stop,” Crump said in a statement.
Second degree murder is a felony offense, punishable by up to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The elements of second degree include a death caused by the defendant, who must have been in the mindset to kill, do great bodily harm, or commit an act where the natural tendency is death or great bodily harm. The death also cannot be justifiable or excused through means like self defense, Becker said.
Schurr will not face felony firearm charges due to a previous Michigan Supreme Court decision, People v. Khoury, which determined felony firearm charges cannot be brought against a police officer who used a gun in the performance of their duties, Becker said.
Before the announcement, Becker spoke with Lyoya’s family to share condolences and discuss the decision. The family was also given a letter in their native language of Swahili with the details regarding Becker’s announcement.
On the morning of April 4, Schurr pulled Lyoya, who was African American, over for a traffic stop. According to video of the incident, Lyoya fled after exiting the car and speaking to Schurr. After a brief struggle for possession of the officer’s taser, Schurr held Lyoya to the ground and shot him in the back of the head, killing him.
There were weeks of protests in downtown Grand Rapids following Lyoya’s killing.
Schurr was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of the Michigan State Police’s criminal investigation of the incident and Grand Rapids Police Department’s internal investigation to determine if departmental policy was followed.
The Michigan State Police submitted its investigative report of the shooting to Kent County Prosecutor’s Office on April 28, but reported the investigation was ongoing. According to a news release, investigators awaited forensic reports from the manufacturer of the body camera and taser, and would submit them to the prosecutor once they were received.
Becker said he received the final report the day after Memorial Day, listing the forensic report of the taser as one of the reasons for the delay.
“Things take time, I want to be, obviously, thorough. This is obviously a major decision,” Becker said. “We make a decision when we have all the facts.”
At a press conference later in the evening, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom announced that he would recommend Schurr’s suspension without pay pending termination.
“I recognize the impact this will have on a long-time employee and a friend of many at the Grand Rapids Police Department, but I think it is the right thing to do,” Winstrom said.
Grand Rapids residents have called for changes within the Grand Rapids Police department for years, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan documenting a history of racial violence within the department.
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss reiterated the city leadership’s commitment to improving police practices and working with city officials, residents and community partners to make long-term systemic changes to create a safer, better community.
The city will continue to build upon past efforts to improve policing, including requiring independent investigations in officer involved shootings, use and implementation of body-worn cameras, how traffic stops and analysis have been conducted in the past and the future, and how the city utilizes different programs for police accountability and violence prevention, City Manager Mark Washington said.
The city also will focus on de-escalation training and community informed and community engaged police training. The city has also begun conversation with its immigrant and refugee community, Washington said.
While the city has made significant changes in partnership with the community there is still work to be done, Bliss said.
“A lot of the work we have done has been important work moving us in the right direction… the reality is there is only so much we can do locally.” Bliss said. “Police reform, I would argue a number of other reforms that have to happen in systems, we aren’t completely responsible for them at the local level. We need reform at the state level, we need reform at the federal level and we need to have a lot of changes in different systems to help us get to where we want to be.”
Leaders of the Grand Rapids branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a statement supporting Becker’s decision.
“There have been too many incidents where people of color have been killed at the hands of law enforcement, whose top priority should be to protect and serve all citizens. Although this is a step in the right direction, we hope that all involved in this next phase will operate without bias and ultimately, Officer Christopher Schurr will be convicted for his heinous actions,” the statement reads.
The association will continue to work with our local officials and city leadership to ensure reforms are put in place and effectively implemented.
The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus also issued a statement saying that change is “required and should be demanded to prevent the violent police response that led to Patrick Lyoya’s murder,” pledging to work with the governor, the governor’s Black Leadership Advisory Council, the Civil Rights Commission, and Grand Rapids community leaders to produce “meaningful resolutions in law enforcement that disproportionately impacts communities of color.”
John E. Johnson, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MCDR) also released a statement supporting the decision, labeling it a major step “in addressing accountability and the systemic issues that lead to disparate treatment of the people the agency is charged to serve and protect.”
State Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) also spoke about Becker’s decision.
“I am glad Prosecutor Becker found merit in bringing charges of second-degree murder against the accused officer. However, a trial will not bring Patrick or others like him back. At the end of the day, a person is dead, and we cannot allow another killing at the hands of police to go unexamined for the systemic flaws that continue to lead to these tragedies. We must change our systems when it’s clear they do not protect everyone equally,” Brinks said in a statement.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a statement commending the work of Becker, his team and Michigan State Police in recent months.
“We must now respect the judicial process and allow the facts of the case to be presented in court,” Nessel said.
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