NewsShooting death of Patrick Lyoya


Emails: Secretary of State office discusses deliberately not releasing Lyoya driving record to news outlets

Jocelyn Benson.jpeg
Posted at 2:55 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 03:38:26-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Through a Freedom Of Information Act Request, FOX 17 has learned new details about the decision made by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office regarding not releasing the driving record of Patrick Lyoya to news outlets who requested them.

Under the Michigan Vehicle Code, news organizations have the right to receive personal information, such as a driving record, in “the preparation and dissemination of a report related in part or in whole to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.”

Lyoya was pulled over initially for a traffic stop in Grand Rapids, that ended with him shot and killed by a police officer.

Emails from the Secretary of State’s office provide new details regarding a statement released regarding the release of Lyoya's driving record to news outlets.

Emails show efforts from staff to withhold release of information

The original statement released to the public reads:

“The Michigan Department of State condemns the killing of Patrick Lyoya. Moreover, the Department will no longer provide the driving record and personal information of Mr. Lyoya to the media, nor will it provide to media such records and information of other victims of violence. The department provided Mr. Lyoya’s record to three media outlets before recognizing that it was being included as an irrelevant detail that wrongly suggests he is culpable for being shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids police officer.

Additionally, the department will continue ongoing review and revision of the policies by which it provides the personal information of any Michigan resident to third parties. As we have stated previously, current Michigan law is very broad, and we believe state legislators should strengthen the law to demonstrate that they value the privacy of Michiganders over corporate profits. In the absence of legislative action, we will continue our own review.”

The above statement was sent to news outlets at 2:36 pm on April 15, 11 days after Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed. Email records show Benson approved the statement.

By 9:30 pm on April 15, the SOS issued the following statement:

"Earlier today the Michigan Department of State issued a statement regarding the release of driver records and other personal information to the media that suggested a change in policy. There is no change in policy at this time.

The department is currently reviewing the manner in which it provides the driver record of any Michigan resident to third parties to ensure we balance the critical importance of government transparency and access to information with the need to protect the privacy of Michiganders.

While we conduct this review there will be no changes to our current policy, nor will there be any changes to media or public access to such data."

The Chief External Affairs Officer for the department, Jake Rollow, upon releasing the emails to FOX 17, admits the first paragraph of the initial statement was a mistake.

Saying in part quote: “Upon review of the attached file, I believe you will see that I mistakenly rushed what should have been a more deliberative process and failed to sufficiently brief Secretary Benson of the various ways to analyze the proposed policy change.”

The emails show the decision to release the statement was discussed for more than 24 hours, with multiple edits made and things taken out. You can read the full email conversation here.

Secretary of State Emails by WXMI on Scribd

The emails also detail concerns about outlets requesting Lyoya's driving record from the start.

Several outlets, including the Detroit Free Press and WOODTV8, received driving record information as requested.

After that, all other requests are flagged and sent to Rollow.

Requests from outlets, including the Detroit News, were redirected to Michigan State Police under the direction of Rollow, according to the emails.

Michigan State Police are the lead investigators on the case. None of their investigation documents or details into Lyoya's death have been made public as of May 9, 2022.

Essentially, some news outlets were sent to a dead-end, while other outlets were given the information, the emails dictate.

Rollow tells Benson in an email that they could deny future FOIA requests for Lyoya's driving record. FOIA requests are a much more lengthy process than receiving the driving record from the SOS office.

He says if news outlets pursue legal action for the denied requests, the Secretary of State's office would “likely win the case” but went on to say it is “not a slam dunk.”

Secretary Benson emailed her staff after the statement is released. It is clear she’s not pleased with the decision.

The email reads:

“The entire first paragraph of this statement should not have been released. While we as individuals or I as a public leader may have my position and issue such a condemnation, it is not the role of the department to take a position on a matter that is the subject of an ongoing investigation. Similarly, in my view, it is not appropriate for the department to subjectively release driving records to some media outlets and then refuse to do so for others because we disagree with how the information is being reported. 

We must have one single, objective policy that we all follow and that is clear to the public and to the press. 

Unfortunately in my view the above statement significantly harms the credibility of a department that values being nonpartisan, transparent, and above the political fray. It is appropriate to say we will review our policies of releasing data to ensure they strike a balance between transparency and protecting the privacy of Michigan residents.” 


Benson then scheduled a mandatory meeting with her staff to discuss the statement, also stated in her emails.

“I have no doubt that each step that was taken yesterday was done with the best intentions in mind and with an eye towards doing the right thing and furthering truth, equity, and justice. However, errors in judgment and mistakes were made and we need to discuss them as a team to ensure we are aligned moving forward in this challenging time and that errors like this do not happen again.”

The Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Radio Television Digital News Association and Michigan Press Association penned a letter signed by three high-ranking officials with their organizations highlighting their concerns and inviting SOS leaders to meet with them.

“While shocked and saddened by the death of Patrick Lyoya and the events in Grand Rapids, we’re against using that tragedy to curtail the rights of the media and of all Michiganders to public information,” the organizations said in their letter.

The MAB told FOX 17 Monday that Michigan has a history of issues with government transparency and Freedom of Information Act Requests. They’re hoping their conversation next week with the SOS office will provide better guidelines for the future.