GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The attorneys for the family of Patrick Lyoya, a Black man who was shot and killed by a white Grand Rapids police officer last year, argued Monday that the officer seriously deviated from his training during the fatal encounter, according to expert testimony.
The city of Grand Rapids and former officer Christopher Schurr are being sued in connection with the fatal April 4, 2022, shooting of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya. Schurr, who has also been criminally charged with second-degree murder, shot Lyoya in the back of the head during a scuffle that began as a traffic stop.
Videos from police cameras and a passenger in Lyoya’s car captured the shooting and what led up to it, and those videos have been widely shared and viewed publicly since.
The footage shows Schurr drive past Lyoya’s vehicle in a residential neighborhood before turning around to follow Lyoya and ultimately pull him over. A struggle ensued when Lyoya exited the vehicle during the traffic stop, questioned what was going on and resisted arrest. That close-quarters struggle ended with then-officer Schurr firing a shot at Lyoya’s head, killing him.
Criminally, the defense argues Schurr was acting in self defense, and that his use of force was justified in accordance with Grand Rapids Police Department policy. Schurr has been ordered to stand trial on the second-degree murder charge later this year, though that the defense has appealed that decision.
Lyoya’s family are also suing Schurr and the city of Grand Rapids for millions of dollars over their handling of the situation that resulted in their son’s death. Defendants in the civil case argue they have governmental immunity and can’t be sued.
But the Lyoya family’s civil attorneys -- Detroit-based Ven Johnson and well-known civil rights attorney Ben Crump -- seek to hold Schurr and the city accountable. On Monday, April 10, they revealed new evidence they hope will send the case to trial.
New plaintiff evidence
In congruence with prosecutors, Johnson and Crump argue that Schurr’s use of deadly force was unjustified because the officer failed to de-escalate the situation, and instead continued to escalate it. The attorneys are now pointing to two expert testimonies that argue Schurr significantly deviated from his training during his encounter with Lyoya.
The experts, of which both are police instructors and one is a former police chief, walked step-by-step through the footage of the struggle and shooting in their affidavits filed April 7. The plaintiffs’ experts argue that Schurr consistently continued to escalate the situation on April 4 and ignored his training by failing to gain distance from Lyoya, failing to wait for backup that was on the way, and engage in physical contact with Lyoya “unnecessarily.”
Video footage apparently shows Schurr and Lyoya pass each other in their vehicles in opposite directions, before Schurr turns around to follow Lyoya and then pull him over. Schurr could be heard telling Lyoya that he was stopped because the license plate didn’t match the vehicle, but plaintiffs argue that Schurr didn’t even see the license plate before deciding to pursue Lyoya.
Johnson and Crump say Lyoya was only pulled over because he and his passenger, another Black man, were racially targeted.
“This is simply a case of driving while Black,” Crump said Monday.
Once the traffic stop commenced, plaintiffs argue that Schurr initiated first physical contact, then initiated a foot pursuit during the traffic stop, and then initiated violence by attempting to deploy a Taser and then fatally firing his gun. In the videos, Lyoya does appear to be resisting arrest, but Johnson and Crump say the man was trying to avoid getting “beaten.”
Either way, plaintiffs argue that even if Lyoya was resisting arrest, excessive force was not legally warranted during the encounter because the infraction in question was minor, and because Schurr allegedly “knew there was no threat to his life.”
The experts, who are well versed on Taser training and protocols, also said Schurr inappropriately deployed the weapon and didn’t follow training protocols.
“Schurr violated Grand Rapids PD policies and deviated from his training and acceptable police standards when he drew his Taser as he was still physically engaged with Lyoya. Schurr’s Taser training dictated that there must be space between an officer and a subject for the Taser to be effective. Yet, Schurr unhoistered his less-lethal Taser weapon without having created any distance between himself and Lyoya,” expert Thomas Tiderington testified in his affidavit.
“Moreover, Schurr failed to warn Lyoya that he would be tased if Lyoya failed to comply with his verbal commands,” Tiderington said.
You can read the affidavits from the plaintiffs’ experts below.
Schurr is currently scheduled to stand trial on his criminal charges on Oct. 24.
The future of the civil lawsuit is currently unclear. The city of Grand Rapids declined to comment on the evidence outlined Monday.