Grand Rapids — Amid public outcry for transparency, police in Grand Rapids released videos Wednesday that showed a White officer shoot a Black man following a struggle that ensued last week during a traffic stop.
In roughly 20 minutes of footage released by Grand Rapids police during a press conference, an officer, who has not been named, can be seen wrestling with 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya before firing his weapon into the back of Lyoya’s head. The video appears to show Lyoya trying to gain control of the officer’s stun gun during the struggle.
“Let go of the Taser,” the officer can be heard shouting to Lyoya before firing the fatal shot and then calling for backup.
The confrontation occurred at 8:11 a.m. April 4 near the intersection of Griggs and Nelson on the southeast side of the city.
In the released video, the officer tells Lyoya he was pulled over because his license plate didn’t match his vehicle. Lyoya was driving the vehicle and had a male passenger in the car.
During the stop, the video shows Lyoya exiting the vehicle before the officer approaches. The officer instructs him to get back into the car, asks for his license and if he speaks English, to which Lyoya replies yes. The family’s native language is Swahili, said Israel Siku, an interpreter for the family.
The officer tells Lyoya the car isn’t registered as Lyoya appears confused and dismissive. The officer asks for his driver’s license.
Lyoya tells the officer his license is in the car, and he stands at the vehicle with the door open for nearly 30 seconds before closing the door. The officer shouts, “nope, nope” and tries to get Lyoya on the hood of the car the man was driving.
That’s when the conflict begins, and Lyoya breaks free, runs around the car and into a nearby yard. The officer calls for backup, stating, “the individual is running,” and a struggle ensues again in the front yard of a home adjacent to where Lyoya was pulled over.
As the officer continues to be unable to restrain Lyoya, he draws a stun gun.
At one point, Lyoya pushes the officer’s stun gun toward the ground, and the officer’s body camera deactivates. Other video shows the two wrestling until the officer, while on top of Lyoya, draws his weapon and fires into the back of Lyoya’s head.
The passenger exits the vehicle during the struggle, recording with a cellphone, and tells the officer before Lyoya was fatally shot, “You hit him, too.” The officer stands up after Lyoya was shot and orders the passenger to “get back.”
The struggle over the stun gun lasted about 90 seconds, Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Winstrom said. The officer fired the stun gun twice, and Winstrom said both times it was fired into the ground. The body-worn camera was deactivated during the struggle because it was held down for three seconds, Winstrom added.
“What we’ve seen in examining the information is that it was hit many times during that struggle,” Winstrom said.
Backup arrived at the scene three minutes after the officer called for help. There was no weapon recovered from Lyoya, Winstrom said, but he acknowledged he isn’t aware of all the evidence since the Michigan State Police is overseeing the case.
At the press conference, Winstrom presented videos taken from the body-worn camera, in-car camera, a cellphone and a home surveillance system.
“You’re trying to place him in custody. That’s it,” Winstrom said about the altercation. “The follow-up question will be was the use of force and policy — and I’m not going to comment on that — but the test (for that policy) is going to be whether in the view of a reasonable police officer, whether that deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to that police officer?”
The officer was a couple of hours into his day shift when the incident happened, Winstrom said. He is on paid leave, stripped of his powers pending the outcome of the Michigan State Police investigation. The officer joined the department in 2015, the city said.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker previously requested that police not release any evidence until the investigation is complete. However, Lyoya’s family, a Kent County commissioner and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan spent the last week calling for the release of video.
Lyoya’s family and Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack have described the shooting as an “execution.”
Womack on Wednesday called for the officer’s name to be released and said the incident was “was escalated by police.” He called on protesters to avoid violence.
“We cannot talk about change without being the change we want to see,” Womack said Wednesday.
Attorney Ben Crump, who led George Floyd’s family’s legal team, traveled to Grand Rapids to represent the family.
After the video was released, Crump posted a statement on Twitter, writing “We DEMAND that the officer who killed Patrick not only be terminated for his excessive and fatal force, but be arrested and prosecuted for his violent, reckless, and unjustified killing of this Black man during a misdemeanor traffic stop!”
The Lyoya family declined to comment on Wednesday, through their family spokesman, and said they needed to speak with Crump and planned to hold a press conference Thursday.
The Lyoya family emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014. The family lives in Lansing; Patrick Lyoya lived in Grand Rapids.
Detroit Attorney Ven Johnson, who also is representing the Lyoya family, told The Detroit News Wednesday the video was “highly shocking and an absolute homicide.”
“The license plate allegedly doesn’t belong on his vehicle. In translation, he may be somewhat suspicious that there might be a stolen vehicle and that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt,” Johnson said.
“But he gets all excited because the guy gets out of the car, right? The fact of the matter is, you have an unarmed person, Black man, White cop, and there’s no question that the police officer had every right to ask questions. But once there’s a physical confrontation … he can see he doesn’t have backup so for his own personal safety standpoint, he should not have continued to engage this man.”
Johnson said the officer had the license plate, the passenger and the vehicle, “everything he ever needed to apprehend this driver someday in the near future.
“So, why would you get down on the ground on top of him, and then pull your gun out and shoot him in the back of the head?” he said. “This is an absolute homicide. There is no defense to this.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vowed Wednesday afternoon that the Michigan State Police will conduct a “transparent, independent investigation” into the incident.
“Patrick’s father asked me to convey his hope that any demonstrations in his son’s honor remain peaceful, and as Governor, I share this view,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We must come together and build a future where Black Michiganders are afforded equal rights, dignity, and safety in our communities.”
The ACLU of Michigan, Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, LINC UP and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in a statement said the officer’s name should be released and listed other demands. Those included that a prosecutor from outside Kent County who doesn’t work regularly with Grand Rapids police be appointed to investigate the incident and that a federal inquiry be launched immediately.
“The brutal and senseless death of Patrick Lyoya is the result of a police interaction that unnecessarily escalated to violence, the reflection of a policing culture that relies on enforcement and tolerates violent responses to nonviolent situations,” said Loren Khogali, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, in a statement.
“The community waited nine days for the release of this horrific video showing the death of Patrick Lyoya at the hands of a GRPD officer. The video evidence raises more questions, and the city must be absolutely transparent throughout this investigation. For years, the community has been calling for an end to racist policing practices and for a public safety model based on community reinvestment.”
A crowd of about 300 or so people gathered adjacent to Rosa Parks Circle after the video was released Wednesday because the actual park was under construction. Most of the people gathered were younger, and many carried signs that read: “Arrest violent cops,” “We demand an end to police brutality” and “defund GRPD.” There were multiple Black Lives Matter signs as well in the gathering.
About an hour after the protest started, at 6 p.m., the crowd began moving down the block toward police headquarters. Barricades were placed in front of the police department Tuesday ahead of a planned march in support of Lyoya.
Chants included “Justice for Patrick,” “Release the right video,” “F— the police,” “Qualified immunity” and “No justice, no peace.”
Some officers appeared near the entrance to police headquarters Wednesday night, prompting an angry response from protesters.
At one point, the group observed a moment of silence, during which they raised their fists.
“What that cop did was wrong,” said Noah Sweet, 21, of Grand Rapids. “He needs to be pulled from the police force and go to prison for what he’s done. After seeing that video, I wanted to come down here.”
Cassandra Gomez, 23 of Grand Rapids, said she knows Lyoya’s girlfriend. “She’s going through a hard time right now, so I thought I’d come down here to support her and the family.”
DeAndre Jones, who described himself as a community activist, addressed the crowd. He said his cousin, Darren Green Jr., was killed by Chicago police two years ago.
“Regardless of ethnicity, that man (Lyoya) should not have been killed. I put blood, sweat and tears into this community, and many of you have, too. I’m tired of this bulls—. You saw the video. They shot him in the back of the head. That could have been you.”
Medical examiner will not release autopsy
Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle completed an autopsy of Lyoya’s body with a state police officer present, which is standard policy, he said in a statement Wednesday.
The autopsy report will not be released until MSP concludes its investigation, and authorities are awaiting a toxicology and tissue test, which could take up to 60 days; however, they have asked these results be expedited, Cohle wrote.
The Lyoya family is not permitted to view the body at their facility, Cohle said, “as we are not equipped to provide the privacy family members need in these circumstances … and the viewing is postponed until his body can be transferred to a funeral home.” The family was given permission on April 5 to transfer the body to a funeral home of their choosing, he said.
Cohle said his office will work with any board-certified forensic pathologist, should the Lyoya family seek an independent autopsy or assist them.
“We strive to ensure every family is treated with dignity and respect and is supported with compassion and honest information to help them make appropriate arrangements,” Cohle concluded. “I have personally spoken with Mr. Lyoya’s father (via interpreter), and my office stands ready to assist him with the release of his son’s body when the family has reached a decision on the arrangements.”
Calls for ‘peaceful protests’
City Manager Mark Washington said more demonstrations are planned for the downtown area over the next several days into the weekend and that he supports residents exercising First Amendment rights.
His staff is coordinating with organizers to ensure they have a safe environment; however, because the focus of the protest is on the police department, they have taken precautionary measures to ensure “continued access and uninterrupted operations,” he said.
“Due to the focus of the protest being on our police department, we have taken some precautionary measures around that facility to facilitate continued access and uninterrupted operations,” he said in the statement.
“This not only secures the facility but ensures we’re able to provide public-safety continuity of service for the entire community. I understand these precautions may be alarming to some, I can assure you that we have no current indication of an imminent threat.”
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