GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan
A police officer was “justified in his use of force” and not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Patrick Lyoya, the officer’s lawyer said at an arraignment Friday.
Lyoya, a Black man, was shot to death on April 4 by Christopher Schurr, a White officer trying to arrest him after a traffic stop in a case which has drawn national attention.
Court records released Friday offered a more complete narrative of what investigators determined as part of their investigation and what Schurr said happened.
Lyoya was shot in the back of the head during a struggle. His final moments were captured in multiple videos later released to the public.
Schurr appeared at the hearing via video conference from a Calhoun County, Michigan, jail, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and a disposable face mask. An overflow crowd packed the courtroom, with roughly 60 people in court and more outside. There were protesters and supporters, including some wearing blue shirts emblazoned: “#standwithschurr.”
After the hearing, a small group of protesters confronted supporters outside court, shouting obscenities and chanting “Justice for Patrick.”
In the courtroom, Mark Dodge, the officer’s lawyer, said his client was “justified in his use of force” and entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Schurr. He said the officer has offered “nothing but cooperation” during the investigation.
A judge set Schurr’s bond at $100,000 and put in place a number of conditions for his pretrial release, including that Schurr not buy or possess guns and not drink liquor or use drugs. A probable cause conference was set for June 21.
Schurr’s attorneys said in a motion for bond the officer saw the Nissan Lyoya was driving “moving suspiciously slowly and thought it matched the description of a recently reported stolen vehicle.” He “ran” the car’s plate and realized it didn’t match the car, which led him to believe the car might be stolen.
During the traffic stop, Lyoya fled and Schurr tried to gain custody, according to a motion. The officer believed Lyoya “obtained full control of (his) Taser” and he was “in danger of serious bodily injury or death.”
Schurr’s training and experience led him to believe “a person who attempts to flee and resist arrest may have outstanding criminal charges or is currently involved in criminal activity and is avoiding being taken into custody,” according to the motion, which did not name Lyoya.
The officer’s attorneys stated the shooting was justified, and “the evidence presented at trial will ultimately show that Officer Schurr was legally justified in his use of force.” The motion said Schurr is a lifelong Michigan resident with no criminal record or history of failing to appear for court.
Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Aaron Tubergen, whose agency investigated the shooting, said in a court document supporting the arrest warrant Lyoya tried to get away from Schurr after the officer asked for his license and traveled about 30 feet from the car before being tackled to the ground. There was a physical altercation, with Schurr demanding Lyoya, “stop fighting, stop resisting,” according to a transcript of Tubergen’s testimony Thursday morning to the judge who signed off on the second-degree murder charge and the warrant.
Tubergen said Schurr deployed his Taser twice. After Lyoya gained control of the Taser, Schurr made “many commands” for him to drop the device and a physical altercation followed with both men on the ground.
The officer was on top of Lyoya’s back – the Black man prone on the ground – when Schurr “lost complete control of the Taser.” Lyoya had “complete control of the Taser” at that point.
“It appears that Patrick was then on his hands and knees. Again, Officer Schurr was on his back,” the detective sergeant said, according to the transcript. “Officer Schurr pulled his duty firearm from its holster and then fired one round into the back of Patrick’s head, causing his body to go limp.”
Tubergen told the Kent County judge he interviewed law enforcement, reviewed body camera footage, dash camera video, residential security video from the neighborhood and a cellphone video recorded by a witness. He said he also obtained a written statement from Schurr, who surrendered on Thursday.
Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Becker on Thursday emphasized his decision to charge Schurr was “not a message.”
“This is just based on the facts and making a decision in this case,” Becker told reporters, referring to the second-degree murder charge.
Lyoya, 26, was pulled over by Schurr for an allegedly unregistered license plate.
Lyoya had three outstanding warrants at the time he fled Schurr, and an autopsy revealed his blood-alcohol concentration was more than three times the legal limit.
After the death protesters poured out onto the streets of Grand Rapids, a city with a history of tension between Black residents and police.
The shooting led the state’s civil rights agency to renew a request for a pattern-or-practice investigation by the Justice Department into the Grand Rapids Police Department, just one month after a new police chief took office.
The county’s medical examiner’s office released its autopsy results in early May, and the Grand Rapids Police Department released dispatch records and reports written by officers who responded to the shooting.
The radio traffic, an accompanying computer-aided dispatch log and redacted incident reports shed light on the moments before and after the officer shot Lyoya.
Radio traffic and other records released by police showed Schurr told supervisors after the shooting Lyoya “has my Taser.”
Schurr notified his dispatcher he stopped a tan car around 8:11 a.m. He told the dispatcher one person was running from the stop about 75 seconds later and asked for more officers to respond about two minutes after the stop. Schurr told the dispatcher he had been “involved in a shooting” about four minutes after the initial stop. The dispatcher said emergency medical services were en route about 11 seconds after that.
Lyoya was driving on a revoked license at the time of the traffic stop. His license was revoked in March because of a third substance abuse conviction in 10 years, according to public records. He had three open warrants at the time of the traffic stop, according to a CNN review of state records.
It’s not clear if Schurr knew of the warrants or the revoked license at the time Lyoya fled on foot shortly after the stop.
Records show he was wanted in connection with a domestic violence case from April, charged as a second offense. Another warrant was issued in early April for failure to appear or pay. Another open warrant appeared in the court record relating to a property damage traffic crash Lyoya’s alleged to have fled. His family’s attorneys have declined to comment on the open warrants.
Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom said Thursday he was recommending to the city Schurr’s suspension without pay, pending termination. The officer will have a discharge hearing, and the final determination on his employment will be made by the city manager.
Winstrom, who took over as chief in March, said he was comfortable with the decision to seek the officer’s termination.
“I recognize the impact this will have on a longtime employee and a friend to many at the Grand Rapids Police Department, but I think it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Peter Lyoya, Patrick’s father, said Thursday the charge brings some relief to the family, even though his son is never coming back.
“My heart was really broken during the past two months because a lot of things were said,” he told reporters at a news conference through an interpreter. “And I was thinking maybe there’s no justice in America.”
But he added if it weren’t for the videos capturing his son’s final moments, there would be no second-degree murder charge today.