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Lyoya family files wrongful death lawsuit against Grand Rapids, former police officer Schurr

Sarah Cwiek
/
Michigan Radio
From left: Pastor and friend of the Lyoya family Israel Siku, Patrick Lyoya's father Peter Lyoya, and attorney Ven Johnson.

Patrick Lyoya’s family has filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Grand Rapids and former Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr.

Schurr shot Lyoya, a Black man originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the back of the head as the two struggled after a traffic stop, allegedly over an improper license plate. Lyoya was unarmed.

Ven Johnson, one of the lawyers representing the Lyoya family, said they will prove that Lyoya’s traffic stop was the result of racial profiling. Johnson noted that video leading up to the stop shows that Lyoya’s vehicle passed Schurr from the front, making it impossible to see his license plate without a license plate reader, which Schurr’s patrol car wasn’t equipped with. Johnson and his co-counsel, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, say that’s proof the license plate issue was just a “pretext” to pull Lyoya over based on his race.

Johnson said they’ll also show through video evidence that Lyoya was never a threat to Schurr, even as the two struggled on the ground. He pointed out that Schurr attempted to deploy his taser on Lyoya twice, but never struck him.

Johnson said that would have rendered the weapon effectively useless, and Schurr should have known that Lyoya couldn't use it against him. He also noted that during the entire incident, Lyoya appears to be trying to get away from Schurr, rather than attack him.

“You did not hear Patrick threaten the officer once,” Johnson said. “You did not see Patrick brandish, pull out a weapon of any kind. What you saw him doing is trying to just keep free of this officer's hands.”

Crump said this is a “textbook” case of racial profiling, and he hopes the outcome of this case will prove instructive to both courts and police departments.

“That is why Patrick Loyola was unjustly killed. It all started because of driving while Black,” Crump said.

“It’s just important that we try to draw your attention to all the ways this could have been prevented by the police officer who was trained to deal with people in traffic stops who don't follow every order. It happens every day. They don't end up with a bullet in the back of their head.”

Peter Lyoya, Patrick’s father, attended the press conference, and wiped away tears as lawyers played the video showing Schurr shooting his son in the head as Lyoya was face-down on the ground.

Speaking through an interpreter, family pastor Israel Siku, Peter Lyoya said he has a deep well of pain and bitterness over his son’s death. He said the family filed the lawsuit in an attempt to get justice, and expressed outrage that Schurr is now out on bond while he awaits trial on second-degree murder charges over Lyoya’s killing.

“Amazingly that the man is still free, is at home with his wife and his children, and my son is buried,” Peter Lyoya said. “And Patrick is dead.”

Schurr’s lawyers in his criminal case have said that his use of lethal force was lawful under the circumstances. He was fired from the Grand Rapids Police Department after criminal charges were filed in June.

The lawsuit alleges that Schurr used excessive force on Lyoya, and violated his civil rights. It cites data that Lyoya family attorneys say shows Grand Rapids Police disproportionately pull over Black drivers and have received dozens of complaints about racial profiling and disparate treatment of Black citizens.

“Tragically and predictably, City’s unconstitutional policies, procedures, protocols, and customs, are the moving force behind the constitutional violations complained of here and Patrick’s death ,” the complaint reads. There’s also a state claim against Schurr for gross negligence.

A Grand Rapids spokesman says the city has yet to see the lawsuit, and will respond to it in court.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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