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Grand Rapids Police release name of officer who killed Patrick Lyoya

Patrick Lyoya
Patrick Lyoya was killed in early April after an encounter with Grand Rapids Police Department officer Christopher Schurr. Michigan State Police are now investigating whether criminal charges should be brought. (Screenshot)

The Grand Rapids Police Department on Monday identified Christopher Schurr as the officer who fatally shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head on April 4 after what began as a routine traffic stop.

The afternoon announcement by Chief Eric Winstrom came three weeks after the Black driver’s death and followed days of intensified demands by civil rights groups and Lyoya’s family and attorneys to publicly identify the officer, who is white. Civil rights advocates have cited the shooting as another example of a white police officer needlessly escalating a routine encounter with an unarmed Black motorist.

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The embattled department initially resisted naming Schurr while potential charges were still being investigated. 

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Winstrom said he was doing so Monday “in the interest of transparency, to reduce on-going speculation, and to avoid any further confusion” in the highly publicized case. It was also a signal, the chief said, that the department would be rethinking the traditional way in which it has publicly handled cases. 

“Police reform requires evaluating many long-standing practices to ensure our actions are consistent with the best interests of the community and the individuals involved,” Winstrom said.

The statement said Schurr, who joined the force in 2015, “remains on administrative leave, stripped of his police powers, until the conclusion of the Michigan State Police investigation into potential criminal charges and the completion of GRPD’s Internal Affairs investigation to determine whether all applicable departmental policies were followed.”

Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker has said he intends to make the decision on whether Schurr will be charged, despite a statement from Attorney General Dana Nessel last week that her department is “best suited” to handle cases like this. The probe is being investigated by Michigan State Police to avoid a conflict of interest in Grand Rapids Police probing its own officer. 

Lyoya family attorney Ven Johnson criticized police for waiting as long as they did. 

"Grand Rapids police said they were going to be 100 percent transparent, but being transparent doesn't mean hiding information you've had since moments after the shooting happened," Johnson said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "That's the exact opposite of transparent."

Schurr pulled over Lyoya’s vehicle just after 8 a.m. on April 4 for an apparent discrepancy between the license plate of the car Lyoya was driving and the car’s registration.

After a short encounter outside Lyoya’s car, the Congolese immigrant attempted to flee on foot, but Schurr chased and tackled him a few feet from his car. After a struggle between the pair that lasted about two minutes, and included a tussle over control of the officer’s Taser, Schurr shot Lyoya in the back of the head while straddling the back of Lyoya’s body. 

Police declined to release any other details Monday about Schurr’s record with the department — including whether he was involved in any previous shootings, or disciplinary proceedings. 

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A 2014 article in MLive traces Schurr’s prowess as a pole vaulter as well as his commitment to mission work in Africa.

According to the article, Schurr set a school and conference record while a senior at Siena Heights University in Adrian, with a vault of more than 17 feet.

The article said Schurr’s planned to marry his fiancée the following year in Kenya, where the pair had performed mission work the previous year through Corinth Reformed Church in Kent County. 

Since Lyoya's death, family members have said they fled Congo as refugees in 2014 in search of a safer life. Patrick Lyoya, 26, was the eldest of six children and the father of two young children.

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