GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — While a community waits for answers in the death of Patrick Lyoya, a use of force expert is offering what insight can be gained by watching the videos so far released by police. The 26-year-old man was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer on Monday, April 4, after a traffic stop devolved into a physical altercation.
Pleas from his family, along with community-wide peaceful protests, led to the police department releasing videos of the incident nine days after it happened.
Four different videos were released Wednesday: a dash cam video from inside the officer's cruiser, a cell phone video shot by the passenger in Lyoya's car, footage from a neighbor's doorbell camera, and a snippet of video from the officer's body-worn camera.
“The police officer's actions are going to be judged based upon this idea of…. Would a different police officer have acted in the same manner? Would a reasonable police officer have acted in the same manner?” said Dennis Savard, associate professor of Criminal Justice at Saginaw Valley State University, and a forensic criminology consultant.
You see Lyoya's vehicle pull over in the beginning of the dash camera video, with the 26-year-old quickly getting out to speak with the officer.
The officer asks him if he speaks English. After a few seconds, Lyoya responds, "Yeah."
"There could have been a cultural misunderstanding between the victim and the police officer,” Savard said Thursday.
READ MORE: NAACP says death of Patrick Lyoya ‘was just straight-up murder’
“And certainly that can exacerbate ... exacerbate a situation, or make it worse than it has to be, and then things just kind of snowballed from there.”
Eventually Lyoya begins to slowly walk away from the officer and his vehicle, which prompts a slight physical struggle. Lyoya runs off to a nearby yard and is quickly tackled by the officer.
As the officer attempts to restrain Lyoya on the ground, he strikes him several times with his arm and his foot.
“Certain types of strikes by a police officer can be reasonable. However, they have to be proportionate to the threat that the police officer is facing," Savard explained.
While Lyoya was unarmed when pulled over, the video appears to show him trying to grab the officer's taser during the continued struggle.
“Tasers are not a deadly weapon; they're considered a less-than-lethal weapon. However, at the same time, a taser can incapacitate an individual, at least momentarily,” Savard said.
The officer is eventually able to pin Lyoya onto the ground. The back-and-forth struggle continues, despite the men becoming visibly winded.
“It's possible that the police officer was fearful that the taser was going to be used on him, or could have been used on him to incapacitate him, and then it could evolve from there," Savard said.
Whatever the officer was thinking at the time, he pulls his handgun from his belt at this point and fires one shot in Lyoya's head, killing him.
The decision as to whether or not the officer's actions were legally justified remains in the hands of Michigan State Police.
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