Patrick Lyoya, 26, was slain by a Grand Rapids cop during a traffic check last week. Activists said the shooting came after years of unheeded appeals for police reform.
On Wednesday, police in Grand Rapids, Mich., released video of a white officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, during a traffic check last week.
Mr. Lyoya was lying on his back when the officer, who has not been identified, seemed to shoot him in the head. Mr. Lyoya and the officer appeared to be battling for control of the officer’s Taser in the seconds leading up to the shooting.
“When I saw the video, it was painful to watch,” Mark Washington, the Grand Rapids city manager, said. “And I immediately asked, ‘What caused this to happen, and what more could have been done to prevent this from occurring?’”
Even before the film was released, the case exposed long-standing tensions in Grand Rapids, a city of around 200,000 people with an 18% Black population. Activists vented their anger and grief during a City Commission meeting on Tuesday night, screaming for hours about what they called Grand Rapids leaders’ years of inactivity on policing concerns, and then demonstrated through the evening on Wednesday when the tapes were revealed.
Officials indicated on Wednesday that the inquiry into the officer’s behavior was still ongoing and that no charges had been filed. Other than the officer’s gun and Taser, Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Winstrom said he was unaware of any firearms being found at the site. According to the officer’s body camera footage, he tells Mr. Lyoya that he is pulling him up because his license plates do not match his vehicle.
Last November, a New York Times investigation revealed that during the preceding five years, American police officers had murdered more than 400 motorists who were not armed with a gun or knife or fleeing a violent incident. The New York Times discovered that police culture and court precedents greatly exaggerated the risk to officers during traffic stops.
In recent years, police deaths of Black males have dominated national discussions about law enforcement, notably when the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests, including in Grand Rapids. According to a Washington Post database, more than 250 individuals have been fatally shot by on-duty police officers across the country this year, close to the pace set in 2020 and 2021, when more than 1,000 people were killed by cops.
Officials in Grand Rapids stated the officer who fired the fatal shot had joined the force in 2015. According to the office of Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family, Mr. Lyoya moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014 and had lived in Grand Rapids for about five years.
“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Mr. Crump said. He called for the officer to be fired and prosecuted.
Mr. Lyoya is seen driving through a residential area on the cold, rainy morning of April 4 when an officer pulls him stop, according to the videos released on Wednesday. According to the videos, Mr. Lyoya gets out of his car and looks perplexed when the police urges him to get back in. Mr. Lyoya is asked if he speaks English by the officer.
Mr. Lyoya says that he speaks English and wonders, “What went wrong?” The officer takes Mr. Lyoya after a brief exchange about whether he has a driver’s license, and he pulls away and begins to run, according to the camera footage.
Mr. Lyoya appears to try to regain his feet as the officer tackles him in an adjacent grass, saying “Stop!” Body camera footage shows Mr. Lyoya reaching for the Taser in the officer’s hand at one point. Chief Winstrom believes the Taser was used twice during the confrontation, but that no one was wounded.
The officer’s body camera stopped recording midway through the struggle. During the battle, Chief Winstrom said, pressure was used to the camera to turn it off. It was unclear who exerted the pressure or whether it was done on purpose.
Different parts of the interaction are captured by other cameras, including those on the officer’s truck, a neighboring doorbell security system, and a bystander’s cellphone. “Let go of the Taser,” the cop says just before the fatal shot is fired. In the moments leading up to the shooting, Mr. Lyoya is face the ground and pushing up, with the officer on top of him.
The shooting was described as a tragedy by Chief Winstrom, who declined to clarify whether the officer followed department policy or state law, citing the ongoing inquiry. According to officials, the officer has been placed on paid leave and his police powers have been stopped.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement expressing her condolences to the Lyoya family and urging peaceful protests.
“The Michigan State Police will conduct a transparent, independent investigation of the shooting,” said Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat and former prosecutor. “Then, prosecutors must consider all the evidence, follow the law and take appropriate action on charges. Justice is foundational to safety, and without justice, we are all less safe.”
Mr. Lyoya’s death was the most recent in a string of episodes that have strained relations between Grand Rapids locals and police. Officers looking for a middle-aged lady sought for stabbing instead handcuffed an 11-year-old girl as she was leaving a house in 2017.
Those cops were not punished in any way. Other Grand Rapids officers had held five unarmed adolescents at gunpoint months before. In 2020, a police officer was suspended for two days after blasting a protester in the face with a gas canister, according to local media.
According to city data from 2020, Black citizens in Grand Rapids had less trust in the police than their white and Hispanic neighbors in a study.
“We’ve constantly, constantly been talking about the harassment and the brutality that’s done right here,” Cle Jackson, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids N.A.A.C.P., said in a news conference after the video was released.
A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police, the department in charge of the investigation, declined to specify when the probe would be completed and handed over to prosecutors for a charging decision.
Last Monday, Christopher Becker, the prosecuting attorney for Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, encouraged the police to wait until the State Police investigation was done before releasing the video. Chief Winstrom, who took over as police chief last month, responded by stating that the footage would be released before the end of the week, though he did not specify a time frame.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Becker did not respond to inquiries about the case’s status, but indicated he would issue another comment later in the day.
Before the video was posted, the area of the incident, a residential street southeast of downtown, was calm Wednesday morning. Flowers, candles, and a teddy bear were placed around a tree near where Mr. Lyoya was shot.
Hundreds of protestors had assembled downtown by the evening, including outside a police station ringed by concrete barricades. “Justice for Patrick” and “Shut it down” were chanted by several. Others pumped their fists in the air in protest.