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Christopher Schurr’s personnel file shows commendations for traffic stops like Patrick Lyoya's

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Grand Rapids Police Department
Video captured by Christopher Schurr's dash cam showed him talking to Patrick Lyoya shortly after pulling him over.

The Grand Rapids police officer who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya after a traffic stop earlier this month was commended several times by top police brass for similar traffic stops over the last few years.

Christopher Schurr’s Grand Rapids Police Department personnel record — obtained by Michigan Radio through public records laws — shows at least four citations for “meritorious and professional actions” in traffic stops that resulted in arrests.

Some of the letters of recognition from then-Chief of Police David Rahinsky outline the reasons for the stops.

In September 2016, Rahinsky wrote, Schurr stopped a car when it “immediately pulled into the driveway” after seeing him. Police found a “baggy of marijuana” on the driver and a loaded pistol under the driver’s seat. The driver was arrested on five charges, according to the letter.

In June 2016, according to another letter of recognition, Schurr followed a vehicle that “quickly switched directions upon passing [him.]” Schurr spoke with the driver, who “admitted to selling cocaine with the two passengers.” The driver and passengers were arrested.

“It is with great pride that I thank you and commend you for your outstanding performance of duty,” Rahinsky wrote.

According to another letter in Schurr's file, none of the more than 2,000 traffic stops his team initiated in 2016 resulted in a citizen complaint for excessive force or discourtesy.

But these traffic stops, and others described in Schurr’s file, mirror much of what transpired on the morning of April 4, when police officials say Schurr pulled over Patrick Lyoya for driving with a license plate that didn’t match the car.

When Lyoya tried to flee, Schurr chased him. The two men struggled over control of Schurr’s Taser, and the struggle ended when Schurr shot Lyoya while pinning him to the ground.

Traffic stops over low-level violations have caught the attention of civil rights advocates, who argue they are alarmingly likely to escalate into fatal encounters with police, particularly for Black drivers. Some cities are eliminating or limiting such stops.

And in Grand Rapids, after Lyoya’s death, activists told police they weren’t surprised at the result of the traffic stop, saying the department’s tactics led directly to the shooting. “We have told you exactly what was going to happen, and you didn’t believe us. You should all be ashamed,” one said.

At the April 13 press conference where the Grand Rapids Police Department released videos showing what happened when Schurr pulled over Lyoya, GRPD’s current police chief, Eric Winstrom, said he’s “reform minded.” The department’s spokesperson said Friday that GRPD “does not have any additional comments” on what’s in Schurr’s personnel file.

Ven Johnson, a lawyer for the Lyoya family, also declined to comment.

The Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association — the union representing the city’s police — said in a Facebook post earlier this week that it “stands with Officer Schurr” and defended his actions.

“Police are trained that a simple traffic stop can quickly turn dangerous or deadly for the police officer or innocent bystanders,” the association said.

“A subject of police contact may have a history of violence, sometimes even multiple violent episodes, and may attempt to harm the police officer or public.”

“As tragic as this case is all the way around, we feel a thorough review of this entire situation will show that a police officer has the legal right to protect themselves and community in a volatile dangerous situation such as this,” the post said.

Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer contributed reporting.

Brett joined Michigan Radio in December 2021 as an editor.
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