GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A judge facing a packed courtroom set bond Friday at $100,000 for a Michigan police officer charged with second-degree murder in the death of Patrick Lyoya, a Black man who was shot in the back of the head in April.
Christopher Schurr, appearing by video from jail, said few words during the brief hearing as he mostly answered procedural questions about his rights and certain documents. Grand Rapids Judge Nicholas Ayoub entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
The courtroom benches were full of spectators, some wearing T-shirts with pro-police slogans, including #StandwithSchurr.
Outside court, Lyoya supporters shouted, “Justice for Patrick!” and taunted Schurr’s backers, who said little in return.
Lyoya was on the ground when Schurr shot the 26-year-old refugee from Congo following an April 4 traffic stop. Schurr had demanded that Lyoya “let go” of the white officer’s Taser. Video from a passenger in the car captured the final chilling moments.
Defense attorneys said Schurr was defending himself and didn’t commit a crime.
Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker announced the murder charge Thursday.
“The death was not justified or excused, for example, by self-defense,” the prosecutor said, reciting the elements of second-degree murder.
Schurr, 31, told Lyoya that he stopped his car because the license plate didn’t match the vehicle. Roughly a minute later, Lyoya began to run after he was asked to produce a driver’s license.
Schurr caught him quickly, and the two struggled across a front lawn in the rain before the fatal shot.
Defense lawyers said the shooting was not “murder but an unfortunate tragedy” during a volatile situation.
“Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death,” Matt Borgula and Mark Dodge said in a written statement.
Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Winstrom said he would recommend Schurr be fired, though he is entitled to a hearing and the ultimate decision would be up to the city manager. Schurr has been on leave since the shooting.
Becker said he consulted experts from outside Michigan about the use of force in the case. He informed Lyoya’s parents about the charge before holding a news conference and also sent a letter in Swahili, their native language.
Across the state in Detroit, Peter Lyoya watched the announcement with his lawyer, Ven Johnson, and said he was pleased with the decision.
“We strongly believed there was no justice in America, until today,” Lyoya said. “What I want is the final justice for my son.”
Schurr’s personnel file shows no complaints of excessive force but much praise for traffic stops and foot chases that led to arrests and the seizure of guns and drugs.
Black community activists had accused Becker, a Republican, of being too close to police and urged him to give the case to the Michigan attorney general, a Democrat, to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. But the prosecutor declined.
“Everybody thinks prosecutors are an arm or just a branch of police. And we’re not,” Becker told reporters. “We are our own entity. We have a duty to enforce the law. We work a lot with them but we don’t work for them.”
Grand Rapids, with a population of about 200,000, is 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Detroit.
The shooting turned into an immediate crisis for Winstrom, who was a commander in Chicago before taking charge in Grand Rapids early in March. Over Becker’s objections, he released video from four different sources on April 13.
“This is going to be a difficult time for the police department,” he said after the murder charge was announced. “We’ll get through it.”
Lyoya’s killing by an officer came after numerous others in recent years involving Black people, including George Floyd, whose killing in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning on race;Daunte Wright, who was shot during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis; Andre Hill, who was killed in Columbus, Ohio; and Andrew Brown Jr., who was killed in North Carolina.
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