NewsShooting death of Patrick Lyoya


Patrick Lyoya's pastor: 'He was ready to change his life ... he had a future'

Like Lyoya, Pastor Banza Mukalay was a Congolese immigrant who saw himself in Lyoya's story
Posted at 5:34 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 18:03:17-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Pastor Banza Mukalay remembers the first day he met Patrick Lyoya.

It was about three years ago – he says Lyoya couldn’t have been more than 23 years old at the time. Lyoya arrived at Restoration Community Church – a small Methodist church within a church that shares a building with Wesley United Methodist in Wyoming – with the family of a friend he’d met at a refugee camp in Malawi.

Mukalay saw himself in the young man. Like Lyoya, Mukalay had spent many years living in the safety of a refugee camp after fleeing the war-torn and weather-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, also the native country of Lyoya.

“He was a good young man,” said Mukalay. “He was very ready to change his life and doing something good. He had a future.”

Lyoya was a father of two young children. A program from his funeral – half of it written in his native tongue of Swahili – described him as a “gem in his family and the leader of his siblings.” He had six of them, of which he was the eldest.

“Patrick loved holidays, when the whole family would get together and celebrate,” the program reads. “Patrick was a warm and loving person who would do anything for his family and friends.”

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

Mukalay said he was shocked by the now widely-shared videos of Lyoya’s killing by Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr, who was identified only this week by the department.

“I watched the video and it was him, and I was so shocked because that was far from my mind to feel like Patrick could die,” said Mukalay. “That was a big surprise, and for me it was … heartbreaking. It hurt me so much.”

The deadly encounter wasn’t Lyoya’s first with police. Court documents from 2016 show Lyoya faced a charge of unlawful driving away, after using a friend’s car without permission. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

He faced a similar charge in 2017 along with a separate charge that year for driving with a suspended license.

In 2021, Lyoya was charged with operating while intoxicated in Allegan County. He never entered a plea – a hearing to do so was set for February of this year.

Four days before Lyoya was killed, a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of domestic violence. FOX 17 was able to verify the charges and warrant, but not the details surrounding that charge.

Ven Johnson, one of the Lyoya family attorneys, says Patrick’s criminal history is unlikely to make its way into any civil or criminal proceedings to come. Johnson said he wasn’t even aware of Lyoya’s background, calling it "irrelevant."

“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,” said Johnson. “The harm that it does … if it’s not coming in the civil case … more likely that not it ain’t coming in if there’s a criminal case either … and then what we’re doing is exposing our entire jury pool to all the dirt on my client.”

Johnson said Officer Schurr wouldn’t have known about Lyoya’s criminal history that day on April 4 when he pulled Lyoya over for license plates that didn’t match the Nissan he was behind the wheel of.

RELATED: GRPD record of Officer Christopher Schurr reveals two complaints, 14 letters of recognition

“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.”

Johnson added that regardless of Lyoya’s or anyone’s criminal history, it’s never something to take a life over. He’s been discouraged by media reports of Lyoya’s background.

“It’s really a one-sided, in my opinion, smearing,” Johnson said. “It is highly irrelevant, and it’s true; it has nothing to do with anything in this instance.”

Lyoya, who leaves behind two young children, is being mourned especially by the tight-knit African immigrant community. People like Mukalay see themselves in his story.

“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,” said Mukalay. “Just a tragic moment for us because, myself, I was thinking about the future life of my children, like our sons and daughter.”

“We’re broken,” he continued, “and we’re still mourning. And we can’t forget Patrick because he was our son.”

READ MORE: GRPD releases new documents related to deadly shooting of Patrick Lyoya

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