DETROIT – A white Grand Rapids police officer who shot and killed a Black motorist during a traffic stop last spring had no reason to pull him over, attorneys for the motorist’s family said after filing a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday.
Christopher Schurr, who was fired by the police department after he was charged with second-degree murder in the April 4 killing of Patrick Lyoya, only stopped Lyoya because of the color of his skin, according to Detroit-based lawyer Ven Johnson and civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
“When you take driving while Black plus excessive force you end up with Patrick Lyoya being unjustly executed by this Grand Rapids police officer,” Crump said during a news conference to announce the lawsuit that names Schurr and Michigan's second-largest city as defendants.
The lawsuit, which seeks $100 million, accuses Schurr of using unnecessary, illegal and excessive force against Lyoya and showing gross negligence. It also alleges that the city's police use-of-force policies are misguided and are largely to blame for Lyoya's death.
The traffic stop and parts of the ensuing struggle between Schurr and Lyoya were captured by the dashboard camera on Schurr’s patrol car and his body camera.
Schurr’s bodycam footage shows that after pulling over Lyoya, he told him that the license plate on his car didn’t match the vehicle.
Lyoya, who was 26, briefly ran from and then grappled with Schurr across a front lawn before the officer shot him at point-blank range. The shooting was recorded on video by a man who was a passenger in Lyoya's car.
During the struggle, Schurr repeatedly told Lyoya to take his hands off the officer’s Taser, according to video. The refugee from Congo was on the ground when he was killed.
Schurr’s attorney, Matt Borgula, argued during Schurr’s preliminary examination in October that the officer was defending himself and that Lyoya wouldn’t give up.
But during the news conference, Johnson and Crump said the traffic stop only happened because Lyoya was Black.
Johnson said the footage showed that Schurr only stopped Lyoya after they drove by one another and Schurr did a U-turn to follow Lyoya. He said Lyoya's car only had a rear license plate, which is all that's required in Michigan, so “Officer Schurr had no idea about that license plate” when he decided to turn and follow Lyoya.
Borgula didn't immediately reply to messages seeking comment about the lawsuit, and a spokesperson for the city said the city hadn't yet received it.
Grand Rapids, which has a population of about 200,000, is about 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Detroit.