GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Attorneys for the family of Patrick Lyoya are close to filing a civil lawsuit against the city and its former employee, fired Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr.
“We’re all set, ready to go,” said Johnson in an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday. “I could file it today if I wanted to, but again, I want to look at what the Michigan State Police say.”
Johnson is awaiting a response to his Freedom of Information Act request to MSP. FOX 17 requested the same report on May 11 – roughly a month after Lyoya was killed. MSP told FOX 17 there was a 25-business day processing time, which expired Wednesday.
But Johnson said it’s not as easy as simply filing the lawsuit in state court.
“One of the things that folks, I guess, don’t get and don’t understand under Michigan law is when you sue someone who works for the government, so in this case a City of Grand Rapids employee, thanks to this thing called governmental immunity, basically they block you in advance from doing it,” he said. “I have to sue him under federal law to try to hold him responsible, and they’re not automatically responsible, by the way, in federal law either.”
Johnson says he’ll likely take the route of suing in federal court, per an 1871 statute that allows people to sue a government for civil rights violations.
“It makes it much more difficult,” said Johnson. “Governmental immunity is, I believe to be not only wrong, it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s evil because it puts governmental employees above you and me.”
Johnson noted that in the high-profile deadly use of force case against disgraced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the city paid out the settlement amount in the civil suit brought by George Floyd's family.
“Chris Schurr, with all due respect, doesn’t have a pot to you-know-what in. So I could sue him all day long and it’s going to be nothing,” said Johnson. “What matters is whether the City of Grand Rapids steps up like they should, and says, he was our officer, he thought he was doing the right thing, it took a horrible turn.”
While Johnson said a filing was not yet “imminent,” he expects to have the MSP report back any day, at which point he’ll consider his options, consult with other attorneys and the Lyoya family, and file.
Just as Johnson says a criminal lawyer would seek the maximum penalty for a defendant, he says he’ll seek the maximum amount of compensation for the Lyoya family.
“That’s the only remedy, is money,” he said. “When you bury your 26-year-old first-born son, nothing’s going to make them feel better about that.”