GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A district attorney on Thursday filed a second-degree murder charge against the Michigan police officer who murdered Patrick Lyoya, a black man who was lying on the floor when he was shot in the back of the head after an intense physical battle recorded on the phone of a bystander.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced his decision against Grand Rapids officer Christopher Schurr, who killed Lyoya minutes after a traffic stop on April 4. Video of a passenger in the vehicle captured the last hair-raising moments.
Schurr fired the fatal shot while Lyoya lay on the ground and demanded that the 26-year-old refugee from Congo “release” the officer’s taser.
“The death was not justified or excused, for example by self-defense,” the prosecutor said, listing the elements of first-degree murder.
Read more: As Patrick Lyoya’s family mourns, African American and immigrant communities unite to clamor for justice
Schurr, who is white, told Lyoya that he stopped his car because the license plate did not match the vehicle. About a minute later, Lyoya started running after being asked to show a driver’s license.
Schurr quickly caught him and the two struggled across a lawn for the fatal shot.
Becker said he consulted experts from outside Michigan about the use of force in the case. He spoke to Lyoya’s parents to inform them of the charges before holding a press conference.
Across the state in Detroit, Peter Lyoya watched the announcement on television with his attorney, Ven Johnson, and said he was happy with the decision.
“Until today we were convinced that there was no justice in America,” said Peter Lyoya. “What I want is the last justice for my son.”
Another family attorney, Ben Crump, said the murder charge was the right decision, adding, “Agent Schurr must be held accountable.”
Read more: In Ben Crump’s Quest to Increase the Value of Black Life in America
Schurr turned himself in and was due to appear in court on Friday, Becker said. The identity of his lawyer was not immediately known. The officer, a seven-year veteran, has not spoken publicly about the shooting.
Schurr’s personnel file shows no complaints of excessive force, but high praise for traffic congestion and foot chases that led to arrests and the seizure of weapons and drugs.
Black community activists had accused Becker, a Republican, of being too close to the police weeks ago and urged him to take the case to the Michigan Attorney General, a Democrat, to even avoid the appearance of conflict. But the prosecutor refused.
“Everyone thinks prosecutors are an arm or just a branch of the police. And we’re not,” Becker told reporters. “We are our own entity. We have a duty to enforce the law. We work with them a lot, but we don’t work for them.”
Grand Rapids, with a population of about 200,000, is located 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Detroit.
The shooting turned into an immediate crisis for Police Chief Eric Winstrom, who was commander in Chicago before taking charge in Grand Rapids in early March. Despite Becker’s objections, he released video from four different sources on April 13.
At a community forum in April, Winstrom said he wanted to put more emphasis on officers who know how to turn down the heating in tense situations.
“I guarantee we can do more,” he said. “Actually, that’s one of the things I’ve already reached out to my colleagues to say, ‘Hey, I need some curriculum because we’re going to improve it.'”
Read more: Two years after George Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis is still struggling to redefine policing
Lyoya’s death by an officer followed countless others in recent years involving black people, including George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked the national reckoning on race; Daunte Wright, who was shot during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis; Andre Hill, who was killed in Columbus, Ohio; and Andrew Brown Jr., who was killed in North Carolina.
White reported from Detroit and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed.
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