GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — John Riley has a much different picture of Christopher Schurr than much of the rest of the world.
The retired Grand Rapids Police Department officer was on his way out of service as Schurr, a newly sworn-in badge, was just starting his career.
“I literally passed him in the doorway walking out and as he was walking in,” said Riley. “Just a sharp individual. Empathetic, compassionate and wanting to help make a difference in the community.”
However, that’s not the image many share of Officer Schur — even many in his own community. On April 4 Schurr was captured on video conducting a traffic stop over mismatched license plates near the area of Griggs and Nelson. The driver of the car was 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, and the interaction escalated into a skirmish over Schurr’s taser that lasted approximately 90 seconds and ended with Schurr shooting Lyoya in the head, killing him.
“This was a horrific incident that no one wanted,” said Riley. “Both families … everyone is hurt, just a tragic situation.”
Riley, who started at GRPD in 1996, said Schurr was an outstanding track athlete at Siena Heights University and was dedicated to his faith. Schurr made several mission trips to Africa and was married to his high school sweetheart on one mission trip to Kenya.
“He could’ve gone anywhere,” said Riley. “But it takes a special person to want to do something to serve the country, serve the community.”
Now in retirement from police work, Riley runs Gentle Response, an organization that teaches de-escalation tactics and strategies to civilians. He says even with training, most people shouldn’t be too quick to judge officers, as they have no way of knowing how they’d react in a similar situation.
“Unless you’ve had training and experience you don’t know how you’re going to react in a stressful, confrontational situation,” he said. “And this is exactly why combat veterans don’t come home and talk about ‘it.’ This is why police officers don’t often talk about ‘it.’ This is why a lot of first responders, EMS, firefighters … they don’t go and talk about it because the vast majority of people don’t get it. They don’t understand what it’s like.”
Riley urged people not to rush to judgement, though he acknowledged tensions are high over the interaction — or the officer — getting national attention.
“I pray for peace and healing,” Riley said. “It’s an honorable profession; I think it still is, and I think he’s an honorable guy. Tragic, tragic situation.”