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Opinion | A special prosecutor should investigate Patrick Lyoya shooting

Kent County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Becker should recuse the office from the case involving the lethal shooting of Patrick Lyoya by Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr. The reputation and integrity of the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and the local criminal justice system is at stake.

Christine Yared

Christine Yared is an attorney in Grand Rapids, an adjunct faculty member at Grand Valley State University, and author of the book,Private Love, Public School – Gay Teacher Under Fire.

The prosecutors and police department have a close working relationship. Trust is a key part of that relationship. Prosecutors rely on officers every day to investigate crimes, interview witnesses, gather evidence, present the facts to prosecutors to seek charges and warrants, execute warrants, appear and testify at hearings and trials. In major cases, a detective sits next to the prosecutor during trial and assists with the prosecution.

Problems could occur because of both conscious and unconscious intent. How does the local prosecutor zealously cross-exam local officers, possibly including Schurr, and continue to foster that relationship?

Prosecutors have almost unregulated power to make decisions about whether to prosecute and the specific charge. The public does not have the right to obtain the details of that process.

The American Bar Association’s Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice issued a report stating that a special prosecutor should be used in cases involving the use of lethal force by law enforcement. The 2020 report states that recusal is “necessary to avoid any potential or real conflict of interest.”

The prosecutor’s decisions, tactics, arguments, and tone will be dissected by the public, law enforcement and by local and national media. Social media will be inundated with accurate and inaccurate claims.

Why would the office prosecute this case and risk making many residents continue to lose faith in the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to treatment of people of color?

Mr. Lyoya’s family, the public and law enforcement are entitled to have decisions made and prosecuted by an office that does not have a conflict of interest.  

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