A West Michigan prosecutor is determining whether to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of a Black man during a traffic stop. As he deliberates, social justice advocates continue to rally in the city for justice and police reform.
Patrick Lyoya, 26, a Congolese refugee, was shot and killed by Grand Rapids police officer, Christopher Schurr, 31, following a scuffle on April 4, on the city’s southeast side.
The City of Grand Rapids released an array of video footage from the incident, collected by dash and body cameras, a cellphone and a home surveillance system. Video shows a short foot chase that develops into a physical struggle over the officer’s taser. The scuffle 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 on Friday from the Kent County Medical examiner confirmed that Lyoya died from a gunshot to the back of his head. The conclusion echoed findings of an independent examiner hired by Lyoya’s family. Kent County’s report said Lyoya’s blood-alcohol level was 0.29, more than three times over the legal limit for driving, The Detroit Free Press reported Friday.
Officer Schurr has been placed on paid leave and stripped of his policing duties, pending an investigation by Michigan State Police (MSP), as well as an internal investigation by the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD).
Eyes now fall on Kent County prosecuting attorney, Christopher Becker, who will make the decision whether to file charges against Shurr in Lyoya’s death. State police sent Becker its preliminary report of the incident on April 28, but Becker said it was incomplete, adding he needs more information before he can reach a decision.
Both MSP and Becker acknowledged that the initial report did not include forensic findings from the manufacturer of the body camera and taser. MSP said it was still waiting on that information and would send the findings to Becker when it became available. When asked about the significance of these reports, the prosecutor said he didn’t know what weight they would hold.
“I’m not sure what comes back from that. It could be earth-shattering. It could be nothing, but you don’t want to make a decision before you get that material,” he said.
Last week, Becker told NPR member station WGVU he still hadn’t received these reports. He also said he was requesting additional information on the case from MSP but would not disclose what he was asking for.
Organizations like the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP have called on Becker to recuse himself from the case, noting the longstanding relationship between the prosecutor’s office and police department, but Becker said there’s no reason he should step down.
“I don’t know any of these individuals 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 met here,” Becker said. “I’ve done numerous officer involved shootings over the past six years I’ve been elected. I’m not sure why that would change now.”
Lyoya’s parents, Peter and Dorcas Lyoya, have called their son’s death an execution at the hands of police. The family, who immigrated to Michigan from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014, said through an interpreter, they intended to provide a safer life for their children, only to watch videos of their first-born son being shot and killed.
“I was thinking that Patrick would take my place, and to see that my son has been killed like an animal by a police officer, I see that I have no life. I see my heart being broken. I’m asking for justice,” Peter said.
While the Grand Rapids Police Officer Association called Lyoya’s death “tragic,” the organization has thrown its support behind officer Schurr. In a statement released on social media, the group said an “officer has the legal right to protect themselves and community in a volatile dangerous situation such as this, in order to return to his/her family at the end of their shift.”
As the city awaits Becker’s decision, protests continue to flood the streets, demanding justice and accountability in Lyoya’s death.
“You’re a prosecutor. Your job is to make sure the law is uphold, and if anybody breaks it, no matter if they’re a police officer no matter if they are a regular civilian,” activist, Davionne Smith, a Black Grand Rapids resident said during a weekend protest. Smith has been shot at by GRPD and is a cousin of Breonna Taylor.
Social justice advocates are demanding Becker charge Schurr in Lyoya’s death. Many note the killing of the 26-year-old came after years of protesting in the streets for a change in policing procedures.
“If people would have listened, it would have been preventable, but now it’s like an ‘I told you so’ moment. That’s exactly what it is now. ‘I told you so,’ ” activist Olabanji Olatunde said during a march to a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting.
City leaders said they are working toward change. During a meeting to address the city’s 2023 budget, Grand Rapids City Manager, Mark Washington, proposed a plan that, if voted in, that, would ramp up the budget for the city’s Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, taking 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 its work on the case is ongoing. A timeline for Becker’s decision on charges has not been revealed.