GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Video released Thursday shows East Lansing police officers shooting a man in a Meijer parking lot last month. The man who was shot survived.
Once Michigan State Police finishes its investigation, the Michigan attorney general will take the case instead of the Ingham County prosecutor.
Ingham County is one of at least two counties in Michigan with recent policies that require a special prosecutor in all shootings involving an officer.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon instituted the policy in June of 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd. Cases with an “officer-involved shooting” or “death of someone in police custody” are referred to the attorney general’s office for review.
“Having a case reviewed by an elected prosecutor from another jurisdiction, one who does not work with the agency whose officer may have committed a criminal offense, can provide an extra layer of credibility and public confidence,” Siemon said at the time of the announcement.
Meanwhile, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit has recused himself from police shooting cases since he took over the office in January of 2021. His office appoints an independent special prosecutor, meaning it’s not necessarily the attorney general who reviews the case.
The change came after calls from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and Campaign Zero to appoint special prosecutors.
“The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office agrees with these voices,” the prosecutor’s office wrote on its website.
The prosecutor’s office added that it’s “virtually impossible to maintain the appearance of impartiality” when evaluating charges against an officer working in a local police department.
“The appointment of a special prosecutor in cases involving police violence will ensure that charging decisions are not influenced by the close relationship between prosecutors and the police,” it said.
“Just as important, this Policy will also ensure fair and impartial justice for police officers,” the note goes on. “Under this Policy, officers who are facing criminal charges will know that their case will be evaluated by an independent prosecutor—not a locally elected Prosecuting Attorney who might be influenced by community pressure.”
Protesters and activists in Grand Rapids have asked for that to happen with the police killing of Patrick Lyoya.
On April 26, Cle Jackson, the president of The Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, called on Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker to recuse himself from the case.
“Based on the historic relationship between the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and the Grand Rapids Police Department, a fair and unbiased investigation cannot occur,” Jackson said. “Fundamentally, there are too many conflicts of interest.”
Becker has refused to do so, explaining in a statement on April 26 that recusal is only necessary when there’s a conflict of interest.
“A conflict of interest exists where the prosecutor has a prior attorney-client relationship with the person, or where the prosecutor has a personal interest (financial or emotional) in the litigation, or has some personal relationship (kinship, friendship, or animosity) with the accused or other party,” Becker wrote. “Because I do not know Officer Christopher Schurr, nor did I know Patrick Lyoya, the legal standard for recusal has not been met.”
The prosecutor told News 8 on Thursday that he believes the Ingham County and Washtenaw County prosecutors are the only two in Michigan with the policy of referring officer-involved shooting cases elsewhere.
Becker said the issue often comes up at meetings for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and most prosecutors agree the cases should be handled locally.