KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel believes her office is best suited to decide charges on officer-involved shootings.
The Michigan State Police continues to investigate the deadly shooting of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. Once complete, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker will decide whether the officer’s use of deadly force was justified or if he should face charges. He could also decide to give the case to the attorney general.
Speaking in Kalamazoo Wednesday, Nessel said her office would take the case if asked.
“I always, always invite local prosecutors and police departments to refer the case to us. It’s not a matter of not trusting them to do the right thing. It’s the fact that I think it creates friction in those relationships that they need to have and the optics are not good oftentimes,” Nessel said. “So it’s not that I don’t trust Prosecutor Becker. I assume that he is going to do the right thing and that he will follow the facts and the evidence and the law.”
Chris Becker told News 8 Wednesday he fully intends on handling the case.
“I’m doing this just like we did any other case and any other officer-involved shooting case,” Becker said. “Yeah, there’s a lot more scrutiny and a lot more people responding and having their own opinions on it, but that can’t change what we do here. We have to look at it and analyze it and treat it with the seriousness that it deserves.”
Nessel brought up concerns about county prosecutors deciding charges in officer-involved shooting cases because of the close relationships they often times have officers.
“We don’t have those kinds of relationships where we have to work one-on-one with local police officers, so … not just that we can be more impartial, but from the standpoint of the public, I think it just looks terrible, when you have a prosecutor who has some sort of direct contact and relationship with that police officer,” Nessel said.
When asked if he knows or has met the officer that shot Lyoya, Becker said he “wouldn’t know him from Adam.”
Becker said if he knew the officer involved or had any conflict of interest, he would recuse himself from the case.
“I’m fully aware of my ethical obligations to disqualify myself and if I felt that I could not handle this case ethically and base my decision on the facts and the evidence, then I would turn it over,” Becker said. “But I’m fully confident that I will be able to do this as it should be handled and make a proper decision.”
Since elected county prosecutor, Becker said he’s handled about a dozen officer-involved shootings.
“I’ve never disqualified before, so what changes here, other than it’s a high-profile case and it’s got national attention,” Becker said.
“We would take it if he referred it to us,” Nessel added.
Nessel’s office may not simply take the case from Becker.
Video released by the Grand Rapids Police Department shows the officer pulling Lyoya, 26, over. There was then a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing the officer’s Taser. The officer, who was atop Lyoya as the two struggled, shot him once in the head, killing him.
A pathologist hired by the Lyoya’s family’s attorneys says Lyoya died of a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. He says the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head when it was fired.
— News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder and Luke Stier contributed to this report.