GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Attorneys for the family of Patrick Lyoya argue that a Grand Rapids police officer failed repeatedly to deescalate the situation and instead escalated it before shooting and killing him.
During a Thursday afternoon press conference at a Grand Rapids church, civil rights attorney Ben Crump called for the officer to be fired and charged for killing Lyoya. Attorney Ven Johnson of Michigan argued that criminal charges are warranted and promised a civil lawsuit for excessive use of deadly force.
The Grand Rapids Police Department on Wednesday released video showing the April 4 killing of Lyoya, 26. It shows the officer pulling Lyoya over. There was then a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing the officer’s Taser. The officer, who was atop Lyoya as the two struggled, ultimately shot him once in the head, killing him.
Attorneys and Lyoya’s family repeatedly described the killing as an “execution.”
“…In that video, you see a confused person in Patrick, who never takes a violent act against a police officer. Yet the police officer escalates and continues to escalate the situation from a traffic stop,” Crump, who has also represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, said.
Crump said the officer could have avoided engaging Lyoya and instead called for backup. He said the video shows that after the officer kicked Lyoya, Lyoya never fought back but instead was trying to get away.
ATTORNEY: OFFICER MISUSED TASER
Crump also said that the officer shouldn’t have pulled his Taser so close to Lyoya.
“You have the Taser so you can create safe distance and deploy the Taser to do what it is supposed to do,” Crump said. “But when you are in close proximity, you are not following the basic training of taser use.”
He said it was only natural that Lyoya would reach to push the Taser away.
“And the officer deployed his Taser twice, and that model of Taser only allows you to fire it twice. And once … you fired it twice, and this is important, unless you have another cartridge to put in the Taser … it is ineffective,” Crump said. “So there’s no reason for him to have any intimate fear of the Taser being used against him.”
“…(The officer) was on top of Patrick and there is nothing that we have seen in that video to demonstrate that he was intimate fear for him to engage in deadly force to shoot Patrick in the back of the head,” Crump continued.
GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom told News 8 in a statement before the news conference that even after being deployed twice, a Taser “can still be effective either by making contact with the wires attached to the discharged probes (which since there is wrestling were potentially touching one or both individuals), or used directly on a person (essentially as a regular stun gun).”
“The battery would allow for numerous application of either use,” Winstrom said.
The chief previously said that neither deployment of the Taser hit Lyoya and both hit the ground.
Ven Johnson said that in the civil case, the main question will be whether, when he pulled the trigger, the officer has reason to believe his life was in immediate danger.
“That’s the test,” Johnson said. “And I ask you, how can anyone be in reasonable fear for their own life when you’re on top of somebody?”
He stressed that Lyoya did not have a gun or other weapon and that the video does not include audio of him threatening the officer.
“And I hear this everywhere, I go, ‘Yeah, but Ven, he didn’t have to fight.’ And the answer is, police are trained to engage in this very thing. That’s party of their job and training,” Johnson said. “Under the law … you cannot shoot and kill an unarmed man because he resists.”
State police continue to investigate the shooting, which is standard procedure anytime a Grand Rapids officer uses deadly force. The Kent County prosecutor will decide whether the shooting was justified or if charges are warranted. As of Thursday, he did not yet have the case.
Lyoya’s body has been in the custody of the county medical examiner as the family made its next arrangements. Crump said the family expects to see the body Friday. He also said the family expects to seek a private autopsy. The medical examiner’s autopsy report is not yet complete, pending toxicology test results.
FAMILY: ‘DEEPLY HURT AND WOUNDED’
Crump described Lyoya’s death as “another senseless killing of a Black person in America by the very people who were supposed to protect them.” He called for police reform at the federal level.
Crump praised the release of the video by GRPD. He thanked City Manager Mark Washington and Chief Winstrom for the transparency, “because transparency is the first step to getting to the truth and truth is the foundation for us to get to justice: Justice for Patrick.”
Lyoya and his family came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fleeing war and violence.
“I didn’t know that here in America, there can be an execution style to kill someone,” his father Peter Lyoya said through an interpreter. “To kill someone with a gun and to be killed by the police officer.”
He and Lyoya’s mother Dorcas Lyoya said their hearts were broken.
“To see that my son has been killed like an animal by this police officer, and to see this video they show, I see that I have no life, I see my heart being broken,” Peter Lyoya said. “I’m asking for justice for Patrick.”
“I’m really deeply hurt and wounded,” Dorcas Lyoya said, also through an interpreter. “I don’t know what to do. I cannot stop myself from crying.”
“I need justice for my son,” she added.