GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A white Grand Rapids, Mich., police officer who fatally shot and killed Patrick Lyoya, a black man, during a traffic stop in April, was charged Thursday with one count of second-degree murder.
Christopher Becker, the Kent County prosecutor, said the officer, Christopher Schurr, acted unreasonably when he shot Mr Lyoya, 26, as he struggled with the motorist, who drove off had fled. The officer told Mr. Lyoya that he stopped him because he had license plates that did not match his car.
Mr Lyoya’s death has heightened long-running tensions with police in Grand Rapids, a city of about 200,000 people where 18% of residents are black. Protesters marched through the city center after videos of the shooting emerged in mid-April, with many demanding the officer be named, fired and prosecuted. Activists blamed city officials for not doing more to address years of complaints about police misconduct.
“Patrick Lyoya immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pursue the American dream and provide a better and safer life for himself and his family,” Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said in a statement. release when the videos were released. “Instead, what found him was a fatal bullet to the back of the head, delivered by an officer from the Grand Rapids Police Department.”
The case also renewed a national conversation about when officers should face on-duty murder charges. The law authorizes police officers to use lethal force when they have a reasonable fear of death or grievous bodily harm, and it remains relatively rare for US police officers to be charged or convicted in such cases.
Mr. Lyoya was arrested on the cold and rainy morning of April 4. After getting out of his car, videos show, Mr Lyoya looks confused as the officer tells him to get back in the vehicle. Agent Schurr asks him if he speaks English.
Mr. Lyoya responds that he speaks English and asks, “What did I do wrong?” After a brief exchange about whether Mr. Lyoya has a driver’s license, Officer Schurr grabs Mr. Lyoya, who walks away and begins to run, as the footage shows.
The officer tackles Mr. Lyoya in a nearby lawn, shouting “Stop!” as Mr. Lyoya appears to be trying to regain his footing. At one point, body camera footage shows Mr. Lyoya holding the Taser in Officer Schurr’s hand.
Midway through the struggle, the officer’s body camera stops filming. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said the camera was pressured to turn it off during the struggle. It was not clear who exerted this pressure or if it was intentional.
Other cameras — from the officer’s vehicle, a nearby doorbell security system, and a passerby’s cellphone — capture different parts of the encounter. Shortly before the fatal shot is fired, Officer Schurr shouts, “Drop the taser.” Mr. Lyoya is facing the ground and pushing, with the officer on top of him, just before the shooting.
After the shooting, city officials pledged to learn from the encounter and evaluate police department policies.
“When I saw the video, it was painful to watch,” Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington said when the videos were released. “And I immediately asked, ‘What caused this, and what more could have been done to prevent this from happening? “”
Mr. Lyoya’s parents said he was a good son who provided financial support to his family and sometimes came to their house on weekends to help his siblings. He held various jobs over the years, including with a turkey processor and an auto parts manufacturer.
Investigation: Deadly U.S. Police Stops
The consequences of traffic stops. A 2021 New York Times investigation looked at why traffic stops for minor violations sometimes escalate into fatal encounters. Here are some key findings:
But Mr. Lyoya had struggled since arriving in Michigan. He had been arrested more than a dozen times, mostly for offenses involving motor vehicles, and he also faced three domestic violence charges. At the time of his death, Mr Lyoya was on probation, his driver’s license was revoked and there were two warrants for his arrest, including one for a domestic violence charge three days earlier. He had told friends that he was trying to get his life back together.
Acquaintances of Officer Schurr, who grew up near Grand Rapids, described him as a follower of the rules. He was a member of his college athletics team and he married his wife during a Christian mission trip to Kenya in 2014. Members of his college team said Officer Schurr could be quick to put on angry.
After the shooting, city officials released documents showing Officer Schurr had been praised more than a dozen times and cited twice for minor issues, like damaging a police cruiser, which did not result in any disciplinary action.
Mr. Lyoya’s death was far from the first encounter in Grand Rapids to lead to calls for changes in police policy.
In 2017, officers searching for a middle-aged woman wanted for a stabbing instead handcuffed an 11-year-old girl at gunpoint as she left a house. These officers were not disciplined. Months earlier, other Grand Rapids officers had held five innocent teenage boys at gunpoint. And in 2020, local media reported, an officer was suspended for two days after shooting a protester in the face with a gas canister.