Christopher Schurr, a Grand Rapids, Michigan police officer who fatally shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head on April 4, has been charged with one count of second-degree murder, Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker.
Second degree murder is considered a felony. If convicted, Schurr could face a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Becker said the second-degree murder charge was the most serious possible, given the evidence he reviewed: There was no hint of premeditation on Schurr’s part, he said, which avoided a first-degree murder charge.
Schurr turned himself in, Becker said, and his arraignment could come as soon as Friday. He is likely to face trial in Kent County, with Becker’s office overseeing the case.
“I wouldn’t charge him if I didn’t think I could prove it,” Becker told the assembled media at the Michigan State Police station, just northwest of Grand Rapids.
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Lyoya, who was 26 when he was shot, was a Congolese refugee. His death sparked protests in Grand Rapids, Detroit and elsewhere over the police department’s conduct with the city’s black residents and sparked debates about the city’s commitment to racial equity, something it had vowed to improve in the wake of protests for racial injustice in 2020.
Schurr, who had been with the Grand Rapids Police Department since 2015, was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting. Police Chief Eric Winstrom confirmed Schurr’s name to the public on April 25.
Winstrom said he will recommend Schurr’s suspension without pay from the police force pending his dismissal. Schurr is entitled to an employment hearing, per city policy, Winstrom said, speaking during a news conference with other city leaders following Becker’s announcement.
Footage released by police on April 13 shows Schurr stopping Lyoya, who was black, on the morning of April 4 in Grand Rapids. Schurr, who is white, told Lyoya that he stopped his car because the license plate did not match the vehicle.
Lyoya seemed confused by what Schurr was saying and got out of his vehicle, prompting Schurr to tell him to go back inside and provide him with his driver’s license.
Lyoya ran away from Schurr, prompting a chase through the front yards of nearby houses. Schurr eventually tackled Lyoya, the two wrestled and Schurr could be heard telling Lyoya to “stop” and “drop the Taser,” in the footage. Schurr’s stun gun deployed twice but never made contact.
After about 90 seconds, Schurr was on top of Lyoya, who was face down on the ground. Schurr, still yelling “drop the taser”, shot Lyoya in the back of the head.
The shooting was investigated by the Michigan State Police, who referred their investigation to Becker.
Defense attorneys said the shooting was “not a murder but an unfortunate tragedy” during a volatile situation.
“Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, causing Officer Schurr to fear great bodily harm or death,” Matt Borgula and Mark Dodge said in a written statement.
Lyoya’s family met with lawyers to see Becker’s announcement from Detroit, and they were informed of the decision beforehand, Becker said. The family previously requested charges and received a letter about the decision, which was translated into their native Swahili.
In Detroit, Peter Lyoya watched the televised ad with his attorney, Ven Johnson, and said he was pleased with the decision.
“We firmly believed that there was no justice in America, until today,” said Peter Lyoya. “What I want is final justice for my son.”
In addition to protests calling for Schurr to be charged for the shooting, Lyoya’s family, attorneys, and national figures such as the Rev. Al Sharpton had called for Schurr to be charged.
In a statement, Ben Crump, one of the family’s attorneys, said the decision to charge was encouraging, calling it a “crucial step in the right direction.”
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said the city will continue to assess its policing standards after the shooting.
City officials will examine how officers are trained to interact during traffic stops and when traffic stops should occur, how the city conducts investigations into officers after shootings, and how officers are trained to wear body cameras, said City Manager Mark Washington.
Schurr’s body camera deactivated during the fight with Lyoya.
Contributing: The Associated Press