The officer accused of killing 26-year-old Congolese immigrant Patrick Lyoya with a gunshot to the back of the head has been charged with second-degree murder, but the family hopes the murder charge is upgraded to first-degree.
“Our family hasn’t been the same ever since, people have been traumatized,” said Jimmy Barwan.
Barwan, 26, and Reginald James, 50, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, both cousins of Lyoya, are cautiously optimistic about the second-degree murder charge filed against the Grand Rapids police officer, Christopher Schurr, who killed Lyoya. In Michigan, a second-degree murder charge means life in prison with the possibility of parole if convicted.
“This is what we’ve been fighting for, this is why we’ve been marching, marching for justice and people have been out here for more than 69 days now making sure we get justice,” said Barwan.
Barwan says Lyoya and his family moved to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of Congo for a better life, but unfortunately, Lyoya’s life was cut short on a rainy morning on April 4, when he crossed paths with Officer Schurr.
Lyoya’s final moments were caught on video by cruiser dashcam, bodycam, cellphone and home security camera.
Lyoya was pulled over for a traffic stop by Schurr because the license plate didn’t match the vehicle. Video of the encounter shows Schurr approaching Lyoya asking for a driver’s license. Schurr initially can be heard on bodycam video asking Lyoya to stay in the car, but as Lyoya exits the vehicle, Schurr can be heard still asking for a driver’s license.
Seconds later, as Schurr attempts to detain Lyoya — who later was determined to be under the influence of alcohol — and the two get into a tussle before Lyoya takes off running. A brief chase begins as Schurr pursues Lyoya on foot before tackling him to the ground. The two can be seen on dashcam video on the front lawn of a nearby house where Schurr continues trying to restrain and detain Lyoya.
Lyoya and Schurr continued their scuffle on the ground just a few feet away from where the traffic stop began. During the scuffle, Schurr’s body camera deactivates, but Lyoya’s passenger continued to record the ongoing struggle on his cellphone. At one moment during the struggle, Schurr tried to disable Lyoya with his taser but to no avail. Video shows Schurr eventually gained the upper hand by getting on top of Lyoya as the struggling Black man was facedown on the ground. Schurr then fired a fatal gunshot to the back of Lyoya’s head.
Although Lyoya’s family is content with a second-degree murder charge, they would prefer a first-degree murder charge because that means if convicted Schurr won’t be eligible for parole.
“He planned this, he knew at this very moment that I’m about to kill him so we need first degree, we don’t need second degree, second degree is OK, but it’s still a slap in the face to me,” said Barwan.
“My anger went to happiness, but I was still angry,” James said of the second-degree murder charge.
Lyoya’s death sparked local protests and Michigan State Police launched an investigation on the shooting.
On June 8, Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker concluded his investigation by charging Schurr, stating the officer “was not acting in self-defense and intended to kill” Lyoya with the shot.
On June 10, Schurr was arraigned in court and had a bond set for $100,000.
Ever since the shooting, Schurr has been placed on paid leave. Barwan says Lyoya was a father of two young daughters who are suffering the most from this tragedy.
“The cop is on a paid leave vacation, which means my money that I’m paying goes towards his bank and he feeds his family and his wife, but what about my nieces? I could’ve been using that money to feed my nieces. Their daddy’s not here no more,” said Barwan.
“We’ve done nothing wrong, all they’ve done was everything wrong, the whole stop was wrong, how they stopped him was wrong, everything was wrong,” said James.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment from Schurr’s attorneys regarding his second-degree murder charge, but they did not respond to requests for comment. However, CNN reported, Schurr’s attorneys said, “the evidence presented at trial will ultimately show that Officer Schurr was legally justified in his use of force.”
The city of Grand Rapids also did not return Atlanta Black Star’s requests for comment.
Schurr’s attorney will have a probable cause conference on June 21, where he and the district attorney will discuss possible plea agreements, bond, and other details related to the case before the preliminary examination hearing where prosecutors will try to prove probable cause before a judge.
High-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Lyoya’s family in a planned civil lawsuit. The family eagerly awaits the looming criminal trial of Schurr.