A West Michigan prosecutor is weighing whether to charge a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man during a traffic stop. As he deliberates, social justice advocates continue to rally around the city for justice and police reform.
Patrick Lyoya, 26, a Congolese refugee, was shot dead by Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr, 31, following a scuffle on April 4 in the southeast of the city.
The City of Grand Rapids released a series of video footage of the incident, collected by dash and body cameras, a cell phone and a home monitoring system. The video shows a short foot chase that turns into a physical struggle against the officer’s taser. The fight ends with Schurr, who has Lyoya face down on the ground, shooting the unarmed man in the back of the head.
An official autopsy released Friday by the Kent County Medical Examiner confirmed that Lyoya died of a bullet to the back of the neck. The finding echoed the findings of an independent reviewer hired by Lyoya’s family. The Kent County report said Lyoya’s blood alcohol level was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit for driving, the Detroit Free Press reported Friday.
Advocate General says he needs more information to decide whether to press charges against police in Lyoya’s death
The City of Grand Rapids
Constable Schurr has been placed on paid leave and stripped of police duties, pending an investigation by the Michigan State Police (MSP), as well as an internal investigation by the Police Department of Grand Rapids (GRPD).
Eyes now turn to Kent County District Attorney Christopher Becker, who will make the decision whether or not to bring charges against Shurr in Lyoya’s death. State police sent Becker their preliminary report on the incident on April 28, but Becker said it was incomplete, adding that he needed more information before he could make a decision.
MSP and Becker acknowledged that the initial report did not include forensic findings from the maker of the body camera and Taser. MSP said it is still awaiting that information and will send the results to Becker as soon as they are available. Asked about the meaning of these reports, the prosecutor said he did not know what weight they would have.
“I don’t know what comes out of it. It might be upsetting. It might be nothing, but you don’t want to make a decision until you get that material,” he said.
Becker told NPR member station WGVU last week that he still hadn’t received those reports. He also said he was requesting additional information about the case from MSP but would not disclose what he was asking for.
Organizations like the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP called on Becker to recuse himself from the case, noting the longstanding relationship between the prosecutor’s office and the police department, but Becker said there was no reason to that he withdraws.
“I don’t know any of these people involved in the case. I don’t know the officer. I don’t know Mr. Lyoya. The law is pretty clear when disqualification is appropriate, and none of those are encountered here,” Becker said. “I’ve done many shootings involving officers in the last six years I was elected. I don’t know why that would change now.”
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“My son was killed like an animal by a policeman, I see that I have no life”
Lyoya’s parents, Peter and Dorcas Lyoya, called their son’s death an execution at the hands of the police. The family, who immigrated to Michigan from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, said through an interpreter that they intend to provide a safer life for their children, just to watch videos of their shot and killed eldest son.
“I thought that Patrick would take my place, and to see that my son was killed like an animal by a policeman, I see that I have no life. I see my heart breaking. I demand justice,” said Pierre .
While the Grand Rapids Police Officer Association called Lyoya’s death “tragic,” the organization lent its support to Officer Schurr. In a statement posted on social media, the group said an “officer has the legal right to protect himself and his community in a dangerous and volatile situation like this, in order to return to his family at the end of his shift”.
As the city awaits Becker’s decision, protests continue to flood the streets, demanding justice and accountability in Lyoya’s death.
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Social justice advocates demand Becker indict Schurr over Lyoya’s death
“You’re a prosecutor. Your job is to make sure the law is upheld, and if someone breaks it, it doesn’t matter if it’s a police officer, it doesn’t matter if it’s an ordinary civilian,” activist Davionne Smith, a Black Grand Rapids resident, said at a weekend protest. Smith was shot by the GRPD and is a cousin of Breonna Taylor.
Social justice advocates demand that Becker blame Schurr for Lyoya’s death. Many note that the 26-year-old’s murder came after years of protesting in the streets for a change in police procedures.
“If people had listened it could have been avoided, but now it’s like an ‘I told you so’ moment. That’s exactly what it is now. ‘I told you so’ “said activist Olabanji Olatunde at a meeting of the Grand Rapids City Commission.
City leaders said they were working for change. At a meeting to discuss the city’s 2023 budget, Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington proposed a plan that, if passed, would increase the budget for the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability of the city, dropping it from 404,781 in fiscal year 2022 to $1.7 million.
Despite the potential changes, activists have vowed to continue organizing until action is taken against Officer Schurr.
Michigan State Police said their work on the case is ongoing. A timeline for Becker’s decision on the charges has not been revealed.