Charging Decision Expected in Michigan Police Killing of Black Man
The office of the county prosecutor in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he would announce on Thursday whether he would charge the white police officer who fatally shot Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, during a traffic stop in April.
Christopher Becker, the Kent County prosecuting attorney, was expected to share his decision at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
Mr. Becker previously said he was consulting experts to help determine whether Officer Christopher Schurr of the Grand Rapids police acted lawfully when he shot Mr. Lyoya while wrestling with the motorist, who had run away. The officer told Mr. Lyoya, 26, that he pulled him over for having license plates that did not match his car.
The death of Mr. Lyoya worsened longstanding tensions with the police in Grand Rapids, a city of about 200,000 people where 18 percent of residents are Black. Protesters marched through downtown after videos of the shooting were released in mid-April, with many calling for the officer to be named, fired and prosecuted. Some 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, a lawyer for the family, said in a statement when the videos were released. “Instead, what found him was a fatal bullet to the back of the head, delivered by an officer of the Grand Rapids Police Department.”
The case also renewed a national conversation about when officers should face charges for on-duty killings. The law allows police officers to use deadly force when they have a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm, and it remains relatively rare for American police officers to be charged or convicted in those cases.
Mr. Lyoya was pulled over on the cold, rainy morning of April 4. After stepping out of his car, the videos show, Mr. Lyoya appears confused as the officer tells him to get back in the vehicle. Officer Schurr asks him whether he speaks English.
Mr. Lyoya responds that he does speak 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 pulls away and starts to run, the footage shows.
The officer tackles Mr. Lyoya in a nearby lawn, yelling “Stop!” as Mr. Lyoya appears to try to regain his footing. At one point, body camera footage shows Mr. Lyoya grasping for the Taser in Officer Schurr’s hand.
Midway through the struggle, the officer’s body camera stops filming. Chief Eric Winstrom of the Grand Rapids police said pressure was applied to the camera to turn it off during the struggle. It was not clear who applied that pressure or whether it was intentional.
Other cameras — from the officer’s vehicle, a nearby doorbell security system and a bystander’s cellphone — capture different portions of the encounter. Shortly before the fatal shot is fired, Officer Schurr yells, “Let go of the Taser.” Mr. Lyoya is facing the ground and pushing up, with the officer on top of him, in the moments 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,” Mark Washington, the Grand Rapids city manager, said when the videos were released. “And I immediately asked, ‘What caused this to happen, and what more could have been done to prevent this from occurring?’”
Mr. Lyoya’s parents said he was a good son who provided some financial support to his family and sometimes came by their home on weekends to help his siblings. He held a range of jobs over the years, including at a turkey processor and an auto parts manufacturer.
But Mr. Lyoya had struggled since arriving in Michigan. He had been arrested more than a dozen times, mostly for misdemeanors involving cars, and he also faced three charges for domestic violence. At the time of his death, Mr. Lyoya was on probation, his driver’s license was revoked and there were two warrants out for his arrest, including one for a domestic violence charge three days earlier. He had told friends he was trying to get his life together.
Acquaintances of Officer Schurr, who grew up near Grand Rapids, described him as a stickler for rules. He was a member of his college track 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 anger.
After the shooting, city officials released records showing that Officer Schurr had been commended more than a dozen times and cited twice for minor issues, like damaging a police car, that did not result in any discipline.
Mr. Lyoya’s death was far from the first encounter in Grand Rapids to lead to calls for changes to police policy.
In 2017, officers searching for a middle-aged woman wanted for a stabbing instead handcuffed an 11-year-old girl at gunpoint while she was leaving a house. Those officers were not disciplined. Months prior, other Grand Rapids officers held five innocent teenagers at gunpoint. And in 2020, local outlets reported, an officer was suspended for two days after shooting a protester in the face with a gas canister.