The Cop Who Killed Patrick Lyoya Is Finally Going to Trial for Murder

Christopher Schurr shot Patrick Lyoya in the head during a 2021 traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Demonstrators protesting the killing of Patrick Lyoya gather on April 14, 2022 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A former Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer who fatally shot 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya after he fled from a routine traffic stop will have to stand trial for murder, a Kent County judge ruled Monday morning.

“Factual questions remain as to whether the defendant reasonably believed that his life was in imminent danger or that he was in imminent danger of suffering great bodily harm, and that deadly force was reasonably necessary,” Judge Nicholas Ayoub said Monday.

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The fate of Christopher Schurr, who faces a second-degree murder charge in the shooting that prompted weeks of protests last April, will be decided by a jury of his peers. 

Last Thursday, Ayoub heard evidence from key witnesses in the case to determine if Schurr had probable cause to shoot Lyoya after he tackled the Black man to the ground after a brief pursuit. Witnesses included the officer who first arrived on the scene after the shooting, a resident who witnessed the scuffle between Schurr and Lyoya, and the passenger in Lyoya’s car.

Lyoya, a father of two, was one of thousands of migrants who came to Grand Rapids from the Republic of the Congo, fleeing state violence in the 2000s. Lyoya’s parents and his five siblings came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Congo in 2014. 

On April 4, 2021, Schurr pulled Lyoya over for having an unregistered license plate. After being asked for his license, Lyoya fled on foot.

Schurr chased Lyoya and tackled him onto the lawn of a nearby residence, then kneeled on him and drew his Taser. Lyoya put his hands on the less lethal weapon, during which Schurr told him to stop resisting, according to video of the encounter. After failing to stun Lyoya, Schurr drew his service weapon as he sat on top of Lyoya, who was in a prone position, and shot him in the head.

Schurr’s body camera initially stopped recording before he pulled the trigger, an issue Police Chief Eric Winstrom first attributed to the camera’s record button being pushed during the scuffle. But a video account of the entire encounter was eventually assembled using the combination of Schurr’s body camera, the dashboard camera from the patrol car, and footage from a nearby doorbell camera.

Schurr was fired from the department in June, a day after the Kent County Prosecutor’s office charged him. He’s been out on bond ever since. On Friday, the commander of the Grand Rapid Police Department’s training unit, Capt. Chad McKersie, defended Schurr’s actions despite his termination, saying that Schurr did not violate department policy.

“He went through the use of force options to the best of his ability,” McKersie testified during the state’s examination. “There was no training policy or procedure violations regarding the use of force.”

McKersie later told defense attorney Mark Dodge that Schurr was fired because he was charged with a crime, not because he explicitly did anything wrong. 

The judge’s ruling marks a decisive victory for local civil rights activists and residents who say that Schurr’s actions were wholly unjustified and representative of the overzealousness they say is typical of the Grand Rapids Police Department and its officers.In April, several Grand Rapids activists and organizations said they tried for years to warn city leaders that the police department had repeatedly used excessive force and brutality, particularly in the city’s Black neighborhoods. 

“This didn’t happen overnight. We saw it coming for years,” Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack said at Lyoya’s funeral.

“People went to City Hall and said this was coming. We just didn’t know what family was going to take that blow. The Lyoya family has had to pay the price for the lack of proactiveness in the city of Grand Rapids.”

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