GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Last week, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced that he was charging Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr with one count of second-degree murder for the death of Patrick Lyoya.
Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack sat next to Patrick’s father Peter at the Law offices of Ven Johnson in downtown Detroit when the news came down.
“They feel the charge is adequate,” Womack said, who last week also sat next to the family's interpreter Israel Siku and attorney Johnson. “They are still mourning their son. So, emotionally not much has changed. But, they did mention that it was one of the first good things they’ve seen happen within this system since they’ve lost their son.”
Patrick, 26, was shot and killed during a traffic stop near the intersection of Nelson and Griggs back on Monday April 4, just minutes after 8 a.m. Since that day, Womack has been helping the family, even meeting them at GRPD headquarters that afternoon to help them speak with the police chief Eric Winstrom.
“We have a Congolese immigrant family that ran away from a war zone, and were affected by the war psychologically,” Womack said during an interview with Fox 17 on Monday. “They came to America looking for peace, and I just saw how distraught they were. [They] couldn’t navigate the system.”
Nine days after the shooting, videos of the deadly incident were released by the City of Grand Rapids. Womack, in the meantime, reached out to national civil rights leaders attorney Ben Crump and Rev. Al Sharpton, requesting that they get involved.
And, they did. Crump represents the family and Rev. Sharpton did the eulogy at the funeral, and also paid for it.
“I just feel that when you have oversight and people looking over your shoulder that people do the best job that they can to stick to the letter of the law,” he said. “And, that’s one of the reasons I reached out for national leadership to recognize what was going on here in Grand Rapids.”
During this time, Womack said he’d be receiving threats to his life and job. Some of them left him shaken.
However, that changed on June 9 when Becker announced the charges.
“After the charges were filed by the Kent County Prosecutor, a lot of badgering emails, text messages, posts up on my social media, they just stopped,” he said. “So, I begin to wonder are they going to badger the state of Michigan? The trial is the state of Michigan versus Christopher Schurr.”
Womack said no matter the outcome, he's hoping the case leads to police reform and better community relations.
“My ultimate goal would be to make sure that we have de-escalation training, that we have more mental health workers that can work with the police and within the police department because they’ve got one of the hardest jobs in America,” he said. “So, they need psychological evaluations. They need help as well as our community needs help. A lot of our community members are traumatized by what they’ve seen nationally. We need more training to our community on what to do when you get pulled over and we need de-escalation training for the police.”
Officer Schurr was originally lodged at Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, an hour south of Grand Rapids. However he bonded out on Friday after his arraignment.
He’s scheduled to return to court on June 21 for his probable cause hearing and a week later for his preliminary hearing.
Womack said he hopes that the family will see justice in the end.
“Some of [GRPD’s] de-escalation training is going to help them be able to have better police community relations,” Womack said. “That’s the only thing I’m looking for, besides making sure that this family has their day in court and making sure that this never happens again to an unarmed person in the city of Grand Rapids, no matter what color, race, or ethnicity they are.”