The Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer who fatally shot 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, in the back of the head in April, has been charged with second-degree murder, the county prosecutor announced Thursday.
Christopher Schurr, the officer who killed Lyoya during a routine traffic stop on April 4, faces up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
“Taking a look at everything that I reviewed in this case, I believe there is a sufficient basis to proceed on a single count of second-degree murder,” county prosecutor Christopher Becker said at a press conference. “It is my understanding that an arraignment will take place sometime tomorrow.”
Becker said that he had a letter prepared in the Lyoya family’s native Swahili ahead of Thursday’s announcement. The family’s legal team held a press conference after the announcement alongside Lyoya’s parents.
“We are encouraged by attorney Christopher Becker's decision to charge Christopher Schurr for the brutal killing of Patrick Lyoya, which we all witnessed when the video footage was released to the public,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who will represent the family alongside Ven Johnson, told reporters. “While the road to justice for Patrick and his family has just begun, this decision is a crucial step in the right direction.”
Lyoya’s shocking killing, caught on police body camera, police dashboard camera, cellphone video, and a nearby doorbell camera, stirred national outrage. Weeks of protests in the majority-white city of Grand Rapids followed the release of the footage, demanding the Grand Rapids Police Department release the name of the officer responsible, and for charges to be brought against him.
On April 4, footage shows Schurr pulling over Lyoya for having a license plate that did not match his vehicle and walking up to the driver’s side of the window. According to the footage, Lyoya steps out of his car against Schurr’s orders, and, after a brief exchange, runs away from Schurr. Schurr pursues him and tackles him to the ground in front of a nearby home, the videos show.
Schurr then demands Lyoya stop resisting as he straddles him, the videos show. As he sits on top of Lyoya, Schurr tries to tase him. After a minute and a half of wrestling on the ground, the officer orders Lyoya to stop reaching for his taser, before pulling out his gun and firing a single shot to the back of his head.
Schurr, a seven-year veteran of the department, was placed on paid leave while Michigan State Police carried out an investigation into Lyoya’s death. The department refrained from naming Schurr at the time, telling the public it doesn’t typically release the names of people who have not been charged with a crime or arrested.
After weeks of protest, however, Chief Eric Winstrom confirmed Schurr was responsible for Lyoya’s death, citing the decision to release the cop’s name “in the interest of transparency.”
Schurr, 31, is a Grand Rapids native who graduated from the police academy in 2015. He was an athlete at Byron Center High School before heading off to Siena Heights University. The Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) has not yet announced if Schurr will remain a member of the department following the charge.
At the time, Grand Rapids residents told VICE News they had been bracing for this kind of deadly police violence for years—but their requests for reform were largely ignored.
For many locals, the charge brought a great sense of relief. “We worried that what we saw happen with Derek Chauvin… was the outlier in situations like this, so we didn’t want to get our hopes up,” Vincent Thurman, communications director for LINC Up, a racial equity advocacy group, told VICE News.
“This situation is still very unfortunate and very painful,” he added. “But I hope the charges going forward bring some semblance of relief to the family that has to carry this far beyond just the moment.”
Lyoya was a refugee who had come to the U.S. fleeing violence in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. More than 8,000 Congolese immigrants emigrated to the U.S. over the past decade and now call the small Michigan city home. Lyoya was one of six children and was a father of two.