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Family's independent autopsy confirms police bullet struck Patrick Lyoya in the back of his head

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Grand Rapids Police Department
Patrick Lyoya, as captured by the officer's body camera, shortly after being pulled over.

Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head.

That detail was confirmed by an independent autopsy, commissioned by Lyoya’s family after he was shot by a Grand Rapids Police Department officer on April 4th.

Video released by the department last week showed the officer on Lyoya’s back, with Lyoya facing down, when the shot was fired. But GRPD’s chief said he couldn’t confirm where the bullet struck Lyoya.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Lyoya’s family said they could confirm it.

“Based on scientific evidence, we can confirm that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of his head,” said Ben Crump, an attorney hired by the family, who presented the independent autopsy results at a press conference in Detroit on Tuesday.

“That is now scientific evidence of this tragic killing, and what his family believes was an execution,” Crump said.

The independent autopsy was done by Dr. Werner Spitz, a nationally renowned pathologist, who examined Lyoya’s body at a funeral home in Grand Rapids. A separate autopsy was done by the Kent County medical examiner, but the details of that exam won’t be released until the Michigan State Police completes its investigation into the shooting.

At Tuesday’s press conference in Detroit, Dr. Spitz said the bullet struck Lyoya near the middle of the back of his head, killing him almost instantly.

“There was no other injury, from the top of the head, to the big toe of the feet,” Spitz said. “No other injury besides this.”

The lack of any other injuries on his body showed that Lyoya wasn’t fighting the officer during their struggle, said Ven Johnson, another attorney hired by Lyoya's family.

"He kept trying to walk away. And in America, you should not be sentenced to death from walking away from the police. But that’s the reality in the Black community."
Attorney Ben Crump

“He was resisting,” said Johnson. “But he was not actively fighting this officer. Hence you have no physical injuries to knuckles, face, body, et cetera.”

“Patrick not once swung at the police,” Crump said. “He kept trying to walk away. And in America, you should not be sentenced to death from walking away from the police. But that’s the reality in the Black community.”

Crump and Johnson said they’re continuing to try to track down more details of the shooting, in preparation for what may become a civil lawsuit against the city.

One area of focus for them, Crump said, was what led the officer to pull over Lyoya in the first place. Grand Rapids police chief Eric Winstrom said Lyoya was pulled over initially because the car he drove had incorrect plates. But Crump pointed out the dashcam video released by GRPD appears to show the officer turning around his vehicle before pursuing Lyoya.

“So what we see is him make a U-turn to get behind Patrick,” Crump said. “You have to ask yourself, how did he know that Patrick’s tag registration wasn’t valid when he’s coming from the opposite direction?”

Crump said he believes the officer may have racially profiled Lyoya, and pulled him over for “driving while Black.” At the press conference last week, GRPD chief Eric Winstrom said he wouldn’t draw any conclusions about the incident until it was fully investigated. The Michigan State Police are heading up the initial investigation, and GRPD is expected to have an internal affairs investigation after that.

In the meantime, GRPD says it will not name the officer who shot Lyoya. Winstrom says that officer is now on paid leave while the investigation continues.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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