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IN-DEPTH: GRPD Officer Christopher Schurr charged with second-degree murder in shooting death of Patrick Lyoya

Christopher Schurr mug.JPG
Officer Christopher Schurr chases Patrick Lyoya on April 4, 2022
Posted at 3:03 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-11 02:43:14-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids police officer who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya following a traffic stop and struggle on April 4 will be charged with one count of second-degree murder the Kent County prosecutor announced Thursday afternoon.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says his office is charging Officer Christopher Schurr with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Lyoya.

WATCH:

Kent County prosecutor announces charges against Christopher Schurr, full news conference

Prosecutor Becker made the announcement at a press conference at the Michigan State Police Grand Rapids Headquarters Thursday afternoon.

According to Becker, Schurr has already turned himself in. Records show Schurr turned himself into the Calhoun County Correctional Center just before 2 p.m. and was arraigned Friday afternoon. He was released on bond.

The Calhoun County Sheriff's Office said Thursday evening Schurr was in the Calhoun County Jail at the request of the Kent County Sheriff. In a statement, the sheriff's office said this is common in situations where someone previously worked for the jurisdiction where they are charged.

“The elements of second-degree murder are relatively simple. First, there was a death, a death done by the defendant. And then, when the killing occurred, the defendant had one of these three states of mind: an intent to kill, an intent to do great bodily harm, or the intent to do an act that the natural tendency of that act would be to cause death or great bodily harm. And finally, that the death was not justified or excused, for example, by self-defense. Taking a look at everything that I reviewed in this case, I believe there's a sufficient basis to proceed on a single account of second-degree murder,” Becker said.

Second-degree murder is a felony charge. Schurr faces life in prison with the possibility of parole if convicted.

Becker says he plans to prosecute the case and will not recuse himself.

Following the announcement, attorneys Ven Johnson and Ben Crump held a press conference with Patrick’s family.

Lyoya family, attorneys react to decision to charge officer who shot and killed Patrick

“The Kent County prosecutor, who has certainly never charged another officer even though there have been a number of shootings with this crime before, how clear he believes this evidence to be,” said Johnson.

Johnson said he will get full cooperation from the Lyoya family and their attorneys. Crump released a statement following Becker's announcement.

Interactive timeline of events related to the shooting death of Patrick Lyoya:

THE INCIDENT

It’s April 4, 2022. It’s a Monday and it’s raining in Grand Rapids.

Just after 8 a.m., a gold Nissan Altima is pulled over by a Grand Rapids Police officer near the intersection of Griggs Street and Nelson Avenue. The driver, 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, exits the Nissan.

Body and dash cameras, and bystander cellphone video capture what happens next.

All videos of Patrick Lyoya shooting

“Stay in the car!” the officer shouts to Lyoya as he exits his police cruiser. Again, “stay in the car.”

Lyoya remains standing on the driver’s side and seems confused as the officer approaches and asks for his license; asks if he speaks English.

“The plate doesn’t belong on this car,” the officer explains to Lyoya.

RELATED: Video footage shows GRPD officer shoot Patrick Lyoya in the head

Lyoya opens the door, speaks to a passenger inside, and after a few moments of silence, closes the car door and begins to walk away without another word. The officer grabs Lyoya’s green sweater, and the two begin to struggle.

Over the next few minutes, Lyoya and the officer wrestle on the lawn of a Griggs Street home. He’s told nine times to stop resisting.

A taser fires – it’s been two minutes since the officer first made contact with Lyoya. He yells for Lyoya to drop the device. Both their hands are on it, the video shows.

Eventually, the officer’s body camera is bumped off and records no more video. The reason for the malfunction is still being investigated.

In other angles of the struggle – a bystander’s phone and a neighbor’s Ring camera – the taser fires again.

“Drop the taser!” the officer shouts another time.

Seconds later, with Lyoya on his stomach and the officer on top of him, the officer reaches back, unholsters his gun, and fires a single shot at Lyoya’s head, killing him.

Lyoya’s body lays limp on the grass.

It’s been a little over three minutes since he and the officer spoke their first words to each other.

Panting, his breath visible in the damp April air, the officer reaches for his radio. He’s standing just feet away from Lyoya’s motionless body.

“1915,” he radios his badge number through heavy breaths, “I was just involved in a shooting.”

As he finishes his call, in the video, sirens start to blare in the background.

THE VICTIM

Patrick Lyoya was born on February 5, 1996, in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the oldest of Peter and Dorcas Lyoya’s six children.

From a young age, Lyoya was active and passionate. He was an avid dancer and a fan of soccer.

“He was a gem in his family and the leader of his siblings,” said a program from his funeral, written in both English and Lyoya’s native language of Swahili. “Patrick loved the holidays when the whole family would get together and celebrate.”

“Patrick was a warm and loving person who would do anything for his family and friends,” it continued.

Courtesy: Ebale Ya Mozindo

“Patrick was a loving person, he loved people,” his father told FOX 17 through an interpreter four days after his son’s death. “He was like a brother to me.”

Lyoya left the Congo as a teenager, spending several years living inside a refugee camp in Malawi before moving to the United States at age 18. When he arrived, Lyoya attended Everett High School in Lansing for a short time. Years later, he would tag along with a friend he met in the refugee camp to Restoration Community Church – a small Methodist church within a church that shares a building with Wesley United Methodist in Wyoming.

His pastor, Banza Mukalay, who is also a Congolese native and spent time in a refugee camp himself, says Lyoya couldn’t have been more than 23-years-old when he first walked through the church’s doors.

“He was very ready to change his life and [do] something good,” Mukalay remembers. “He had a future.”

Like the rest of Grand Rapids, on April 13th, Mukalay watched the videos released on livestream by the Grand Rapids Police Department of Lyoya’s killing.

“I was so shocked, because that was far from my mind to feel like Patrick could die,” he said. “What happened to Patrick, it was so discouraging for everybody. Any refugee you talk to they will tell you the same thing. We were very discouraged to see how that happened to Patrick.”

Pictures from rallies:

At a rally in downtown Grand Rapids a few days after Lyoya’s death, Jimmy Barwan stoically listens to the shouts of organizers through bullhorns. He wears a black hooded sweatshirt with Lyoya’s face on the front overlayed with the words “Justice for Patrick.”

Barwan is also a Congolese native, and was so close with Lyoya after the two met in West Michigan, that he refers to him as his brother throughout the interview.

“Every single thing we did, we did it together,” says Barwan. “It's been a tragedy for all of us. It hurts. It really hurts.”

“We left Africa to come here, to feel safe,” Barwan continues. “Imagine being with somebody and the next day they're not there no more. Somebody that meant so much to you…a role model.”

Lyoya was also the father of two young children. In another interview a few weeks later, Barwan shows videos of the toddlers kissing their father’s face on a t-shirt. He says they ask for him constantly. But they’re young – one is less than a year old – and Barwan says they still don’t understand their father’s fate.

The April 4 incident that ended in his death wasn’t Lyoya’s first brush with law enforcement.

Court documents show in May of 2017, Lyoya fled the scene of a traffic accident – his license, at the time, was suspended.

In March of 2021, Michigan State Police arrested Lyoya for operating while intoxicated in Allegan County. According to a police report, the trooper followed Lyoya's car for two miles and observed it fluctuating speeds between 40 and 50 miles per hour. The trooper says the car crossed the center line three times.

A preliminary breath test sampled Lyoya's blood alcohol level at .223. The legal limit in Michigan is .08.

FOX17 obtained video of the incident, which shows a stark difference from Lyoya's interaction with police during the April 2022 traffic stop. Lyoya complied with most of the trooper's requests, although he appeared to be confused about what was happening. He asked, "What did I do?" several times while state police questioned him.

WATCH:

Video footage of 2021 arrest of Patrick Lyoya for operating while intoxicated in Allegan County

Three days before Lyoya was killed, a warrant was issued for his arrest on a single charge of domestic violence against an apparent girlfriend.

Ven Johnson, attorney for the Lyoya family, called Patrick’s record “highly irrelevant” to his killing.

“Anything that allegedly is going to be on there, the officer will not have known about,” he said. “You would’ve heard the officer use that in one form or another, like ‘hey man, don’t run away because I know you’ve got a warrant for blah.’ You didn’t hear any of that.”

“It has nothing to do with anything in this instance,” Johnson went on. “In the 36-years I’ve been doing this, I have never had my client’s criminal history – full and complete criminal history – come into evidence.”

Lyoya’s killing devastated the local immigrant community. Mukalay says the shock of the incident has sparked conversations in his congregation and in his own household about interactions with police.

“I have one son, only one,” he says, “and I was trying to see the future of my son in this country. So I said, you must be careful, because we don’t want this to happen and I don’t want you to be in this situation. So you have to be careful.”

THE OFFICER

A photo posted on John Riley’s Facebook page shows the freshly retired GRPD officer, dressed in an untucked short-sleeved button-down shirt, beaming and shaking hands with a uniformed policeman.

“This is a photo of my friend Chris on the day his badge was pinned on,” Riley’s caption reads.

At the time the photo was taken, Riley had been retired from the force for about a week.

Courtesy: John Riley

“So I literally passed him in the doorway walking out and as he was walking in,” Riley told FOX17 in late April.

The officer he’s shaking hands with in the photo is Christopher Schurr, who joined the force in 2015. On April 25, 2022, he was identified as the officer who killed Patrick Lyoya.

FOX17 obtained Schurr’s record through a Freedom of Information Act request.


Christopher Schurr Personne... by WXMI

It shows two disciplinary incidents, neither of which involved any use of force.

A January 2021 complaint said Schurr drove his police cruiser “carelessly,” resulting in a minor accident. He received coaching and a verbal reprimand from department leadership.

The second complaint is from April 2021. It initially claims that Officer Schurr and another GRPD officer broke into a safe and stole the urn containing a civilian's grandmother's ashes following a traffic stop.

Part of that complaint was deemed unsubstantiated. The police department found the search of the safe was warranted due to Officer Schurr seeing a firearm inside the safe through small holes in the bottom of it. Merl's Towing used a crowbar to open the safe.

Schurr and the other officer were exonerated on the accusation of improper search. Schurr sustained a complaint for "diligence" for not documenting the damage to the safe when opening it.

But between 2016 and 2019, Schurr was also recognized 14 times for his police work, ranging from merits for felony arrests to traffic stops that resulted in the recovery of weapons.

“Just a sharp individual,” Riley said of Schurr. “Empathetic, compassionate, and wanting to help make a difference in the community.”

Riley said Schurr was deeply involved in his faith. Alongside the Facebook picture of the two shaking hands is another of Schurr being fitted for a wedding ring on one of his several mission trips to Africa. In fact, he and his wife were married on one mission trip to Kenya – dressed in traditional Kenyan clothing.

Courtesy: John Riley

Schurr was also a star track athlete both at Byron Center High School and at Siena Heights University, where he set conference records in pole vault.

“He could’ve gone anywhere,” said Riley. “College track star and so on. But it takes a special person to want to do something to serve the country; serve the community.”

Courtesy: Siena Heights Track and Field

But fellow teammates told the New York Times that Schurr was “a stickler for rules” and would scold teammates for drinking and partying. They also told the Times he was often quick to anger.

Riley, who started Gentle Response, a civilian de-escalation course, one year after retiring, says he’s watched the video and wouldn’t have done anything different than Schurr on that day.

“This was a horrific incident that no one wanted,” Riley said. “Unless you’ve had training and experience you don’t know how you’re going to react in a stressful, confrontational situation.”

THE INVESTIGATION

When Patrick Lyoya was killed, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom had been in the department’s top job for all of two months.

“I didn’t expect it to happen,” he said of the killing, “certainly didn’t expect it to happen a few weeks into my tenure here.”

“Even in a town as safe as Grand Rapids, and as peaceful, it can happen,” said Winstrom, a veteran of the Chicago Police Department and no stranger to police shooting investigations.

The day of the Lyoya shooting, Officer Schurr was placed on paid administrative leave and the investigation was turned over to an outside agency – the Michigan State Police. It’s a common occurrence when investigating deadly use of force incidents.


CAD Report_Redacted Connor ... by WXMI

Right away, public frustration with the pace of the investigation was obvious. Protestors at several straight days of demonstrations downtown chanted for the release of the officer’s name before it became public, and demanded Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker press charges.

But oftentimes, investigations, especially of a high-profile nature, can move at a snail’s pace.

“Television, a movie, is a little bit different than reality. Everything does not get wrapped up within the hour. It does not work that way,” said Lewis Langham, a Cooley Law Professor, criminal defense attorney, and retired Michigan State Police Detective. “I think everyone wants it to be done correctly. And I think if the prosecutor wants to charge, you wouldn’t want them to be unprepared.”

In the past, Becker has issued charges against GRPD officers. Under Becker, on average, a decision on charges came anywhere from 6-to-8 weeks after an incident.

On April 28, MSP turned over a large portion of the investigation to Becker.


Incident Report 22-018456_R... by WXMI

That day, Becker issues a statement saying the report, while appreciated, was still incomplete.

“I will begin to review the materials they have gathered at this time; but I cannot, and will not, make a final decision until they submit all the necessary information,” he said.

A week later, on May 6, the Kent County Medical Examiner released an autopsy for Lyoya. It confirmed what an independent autopsy requested by the Lyoya family three weeks earlier showed: Lyoya died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. He suffered no injuries consistent with a Taser.

The autopsy also showed that Lyoya, on the morning he was killed, had a blood alcohol content of .29 – more than three times the legal limit. According to Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle, blood alcohol levels from .25 to 3 indicate that person is physically and mentally impaired, as are sensory functions, and accidents become highly likely.

About two weeks after the autopsy report was released, Becker issued a statement asking for continued patience as he reviewed the investigation report on the shooting death of Patrick Lyoya.

In the statement released on May 18, Becker said he recognizes the investigation appeared to be moving “painstakingly slowly.” Becker stated he decided to seek expert guidance beyond the scope of MSP to help him review the facts and evidence before he makes a decision on whether to charge the officer responsible for shooting and killing Patrick.

“Because of the extraordinary interest in this case, I felt it was important to inform the public that it will take additional time for a final decision. While I may receive the complete MSP investigation soon, it does not mean my decision is imminent,” stated Becker. “I have heard from many members of the public, and I am keenly aware of the impact this situation is having on our community. I thank you for your understanding in this matter, and I ask for your continued patience."

Even weeks out from the killing, there were still questions that not even Chief Winstrom could answer. He could say that the tasers provided to GRPD, made by Axon, carry two cartridges and also have a close-range feature designed for up-close encounters. Axon also provides GRPD with their body-worn cameras.

Winstrom couldn’t say whether the threat of Lyoya grabbing the taser warranted deadly action by Schurr.

“Tasers are not a deadly weapon per se; they call them an intermediate weapon, which means that it can be deadly under certain circumstances,” said Winstrom, who has previously acknowledged that the only weapons found at the scene on April 4 were Schurr’s firearm and taser.

Winstrom, at the time, also couldn’t confirm how the department’s automated license plate reader flagged Lyoya’s car. The APL system rapidly reads plates and returns information on drivers or vehicles to officers.

Asked what the department could do to earn back the trust of the city’s Black residents, Chief Winstrom was quick to respond. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work on behalf of the police department and it’s going to take a lot of communication,” he said.

THE FALLOUT

April 22, 2022, was a day not unlike the one on which Patrick Lyoya lost his life.

Rain fell consistently throughout the gray morning and a chill hung in the air outside Renaissance Church of God in Grand Rapids.

As people filled the church’s cavernous family center to the brim, Lyoya’s family made their way to the front of the room where Patrick’s casket lay, draped in the vibrant Congolese flag.

“It was not easy to watch,” said the family’s spokesman and interpreter, Israel Siku. “The father was down on the floor. The mom was crying. The younger sister was saying, ‘I don’t think this is the time for you to leave and to go. You didn’t deserve to go. You are sleeping. You are not dead.’”

A few hours later, a black SUV pulls up outside the church. Famed civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, sharply dressed in a black suit and blue overcoat, steps out into the rain and is swarmed by reporters. Though the two never met, he is a much-anticipated speaker at Lyoya’s funeral.

When asked for his thoughts on the video of Lyoya’s killing, Rev. Sharpton doesn’t break stride while answering.

“It made me feel like I was witnessing an execution,” and he shuffles inside.

From the pulpit, during the service, he is equally as pointed as an organ occasionally punctuates his fervent words.

'Enough is enough'

“You’re going to take your gun out of your holster and take his life, his children’s father, about some car tags?” Sharpton said. “And you thought we wouldn’t come from all over the world and let you know that enough is enough?”

“I cannot have this legal precedent in our country that the equivalent of the value of our lives is some car tags,” he continues to rapturous applause.

On stage behind Rev. Sharpton is renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is leading the representation team for the Lyoya family. Also on stage were the mayor and city manager of Grand Rapids, a handful of local elected leaders, and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist.

Ben Crump speaks at Patrick Lyoya's funeral

As Lyoya’s casket is led out of the church afterward, his mother wails and watches. She braces herself against someone else to stand. His father Peter stares straight ahead, hands crossed in front of him.

In the days after Lyoya’s death, hundreds took to the streets to call for justice in his name. Things remained peaceful night after night, but people were frustrated.

“I don't know why this had to happen,” Latisha Cheatham, a protestor, told FOX17. “I wish it didn't happen and we had to go through this. I wish everyone could get along and love each other.”

“I keep coming out just so we can make a change,” said another demonstrator, Brian Stewart II. “I'm just tired of the same old thing happening over and over again.”

Lyoya’s killing was a culmination for the city’s minority residents. Years earlier, a traffic study that began in 2013 and went public in 2015 showed Black motorists in Grand Rapids were twice as likely to be stopped by GRPD than their non-Black counterparts.

In 2017, GRPD instituted a new policy on detaining minors after handcuffing 11-year-old Honestie Hodges, who was Black. They were pursuing a violent suspect but were at the wrong house. None of the officers were disciplined.

Nine months earlier, GRPD officers held five Black minors ranging in age from 12-to-15 at gunpoint on their way home from a pickup basketball game because one of them matched the description of a suspect involved in a fight earlier that day. The incident received national attention.

“We told our city officials something like this is going to happen if you don't do something about the police department,” said Aly Bates, an activist, at an April demonstration for Lyoya. “And now look. We were right. And we don't want to be right in these situations.”

Renewed calls for police reform came almost immediately at the state level.

“Patrick Lyoya should still be alive,” said State Sen. Erika Geiss (D–Taylor) in an interview with FOX 17. “His mother and father and brothers should not be burying him. And we have the ability as lawmakers; as policymakers, we have the ability to change the circumstances around why these things are even happening.”

Abipartisan package of bills introduced last year has never left committee, sitting stagnant in the Republican-led Senate. The dozen bills include measures covering a number of law enforcement issues.

One bill would establish de-escalation training standards for police, and another would put in place use of force policies that would include verbal warnings and exhaustion of alternatives before using deadly force.

Friends and family who are still unable to process Lyoya’s loss have shifted their focus to keeping his name and face alive. In May, Barwan began partnering with local company RegJames Klothing to produce clothes with Lyoya’s name and face on it.

The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives announced this month that they will archive some of the items in their permanent collection. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is also archiving the clothing, and in the past has displayed James’ designs in exhibits. The GRAMMA has also previously archived other pieces made by Reg James featuring the face of Breonna Taylor, a Grand Rapids native. They’ll also be selling the merchandise at their store and a portion of the proceeds are going directly to the Lyoya family.

“This is something I don’t want to do, I don’t want to do this,” said James at an interview with FOX17 at the GRAMMA, which sits just a block away from the Grand Rapids Police Department on an avenue named for Breonna Taylor.

“How many more t-shirts do we have to make?” said Barwan, seated next to him. “We don’t want to do that.”

WHAT COMES NEXT

Grand Rapids city leaders held a press conference Thursday to outline the next steps in the investigative process.

READ MORE: GR city officials on 2nd-degree murder charges, GRPD Chief recommends termination

GRPD's Internal Affairs unit recently received Michigan State Police's reports and evidence it collected during its criminal investigation into the shooting.

Now, the unit will conduct a separate investigation to determine if Schurr violated city and/or GRPD rules, procedures and/or policies on April 4.

From there, the city's office of Oversight and Public Accountability (OPA) will audit MSP and GRPD IA reports and findings.

OPA will then release the findings of its audit and make policy recommendations to city leaders.

"A lot of the work that we've done [over the years], I believe has been important work moving us in the right direction," said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. "Is that work ever done? Likely not."

Schurr is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in 61st District Court in Kent County.

His attorneys called the shooting not a “murder, but an unfortunate tragedy,” telling the Associated Press, “Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death.”

Before the shooting on April 4, Schurr’s personnel record contained two complaints, one of them unsubstantiated, and 14 letters of recognition.

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