Lawyers representing the former Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer who fatally shot a Black motorist in the back of the head in 2022 are asking for a federal wrongful death lawsuit to be dismissed.
The attorneys seeking to have the complaint dismissed claim the family cannot sufficiently prove that the young man’s constitutional rights were violated and that their client is protected by qualified immunity.
On Monday, Feb. 6, representation for Christopher Schurr filed a motion in a federal court to dismiss the civil complaint launched by Patrick Lyoya’s family, according to WOOD 8.
As a result of the deadly police-involved shooting, which critics say was done execution-style, Schurr was fired and charged with second-degree murder in Lyoya’s death.
The deceased’s relatives believe Lyoya’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated on April 4, 2022, when he was pulled over, assaulted, and shot by the ex-cop. The civil suit is asking for $100 million in damages. Schurr’s shooting of the victim was “objectively unreasonable,” the suit contends.
The family members, represented by civil rights attorneys Ven Johnson and Benjamin Crump, believe the charges are evidence that Schurr used unreasonable force and gross negligence, breaching his civil servant duties when he failed to make a lawful traffic stop and did not attempt to deescalate the incident, according to Fox 17.
Crump and Johnson said Schurr was wrong to not wait for backup before acting against Lyoya, failed to create adequate space between him and the suspect before shooting his Taser probe, and that he never warned Lyoya of his intent to stun or shoot him as the two men were tussling on the ground after Lyoya ran away from the scene of the stop.
Lastly, the family led by Peter Lyoya, the father of the deceased, submit Schurr failed to use other methods of detainment or apprehension according to department policy before using deadly force against the young man.
Schurr’s team argues he was within reason because his life was being threatened by the 26-year-old. He also said the family cannot establish his actions were unconstitutional, according to the motion, because he had reason to stop him.
“Schurr is entitled to qualified immunity because the videos demonstrate that Plaintiff cannot plead a constitutional violation nor a violation of clearly established law,” the motion states, referencing the multiple videos from officer bodycam, dashboard footage, surveillance footage, and cell phone clips of the shooting.
According to Spartan News from the Michigan State University School of Journalism, qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine that shields government workers from lawsuits when they commit some act of gross misconduct or negligence while on duty.
Cornell Law School details it as a “type of legal immunity,” that “balances two important interests — the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Schurr’s team argues he was just doing his job and it was the motorist that was out of order.
“Lyoya posed an immediate threat to the safety of Ofc. Schurr, once he armed himself with the Taser,” the lawyers argue in the motion.
Separately, Schurr’s criminal defense team has sought the dismissal of the murder charges against their client. During a hearing on Friday, Feb. 3, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Christina Elmore heard Schurr criminal defense lawyer Matthew Borgula compare Lyoya to Jesse James, saying “If you commit a felony and you try to escape, in 1846, as it is today, the arresting person can use deadly force. The classic example is Jesse James, notorious bank robber.”
Borgula, who was trying to persuade the judge that state law dating back to 1846 made Schurr’s actions in the line of duty against Lyoya allowable, added, “Had Bob Ford, the guy that shot Jesse James, simply said he was fleeing, he probably wouldn’t have been charged with murder.”
Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker responded by telling Judge Elmore that Michigan laws have evolved over the past 177 years and Borgula’s interpretation of the statutes should not be applied to Schurr’s murder case.
“[The law] has been developed over time and that’s our position; it’s not like we’re stuck in 1846,” Becker said. “There’s been case law and Supreme Court cases that the judge cited and that we cited that have developed that law over time.”
Elmore denied Schurr’s dismissal bid that Friday morning, stating she would let a jury decide if Schurr should be convicted of a crime for killing the African immigrant.
The Lyoya family is also suing the city because Schurr was working on behalf of Grand Rapids during the incident.
The city is also asking for the federal lawsuit against it to be dismissed, saying in its Feb. 3 motion the family’s lawsuit “does not identify any type of training that could have prepared Officer Schurr for this event, where Mr. Lyoya fought off the officer’s physical attempts to gain control, then wrestled the officer’s TASER away.”
“Nor does it indicate how Grand Rapids police officers (or any other department’s officers) are trained to respond to a similar fact pattern or identify what additional or different training was required from a Constitutional perspective,” the city said. “In fact, the Complaint does not identify any connection or relationship between police training, the lack of training, or a deficiency in training and the events which make up this encounter.”
Attorneys for the city also argued that Schurr “exhausted each conceivable response” to Loyoya’s “escalating resistance before deploying lethal force.”
“The shooting death of Patrick Lyoya, although tragic, was objectively reasonable, and a product of an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer,” the city’s motion reads.
The deceased’s family has a month to respond to and/or oppose the motion.
In addition to these motions to dismiss the civil suits, Schurr’s team is expected to file an appeal of Judge Elder’s ruling in the criminal case.
While that case is scheduled to go to trial in March, both the prosecution and defense are uncertain about the case starting next month.