GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge will decide on Monday whether a former Grand Rapids police officer will stand trial in the death of Patrick Lyoya.
Grand Rapids District Court Judge Nicholas Ayoub said he will review all of the evidence, testimony and applicable laws over the weekend and make a decision on whether there is enough to send the case to trial.
On Friday, Schurr’s former training officer, Grand Rapids Police Department Capt. Chad McKersie, testified that Schurr faced imminent danger during the confrontation and that he followed his training. That led Prosecutor Chris Becker, who filed the criminal charges, to question the department’s former training commander about why GRPD fired Schurr.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you said he did everything as he was trained to do; he did everything correctly,” Becker said.
“Yeah,” the captain replied. “He went through his use of force options to the best of his ability during that time.”
“Then why was he fired?” Becker asked.
“I did not do that, so I don’t know,” the captain said.
The captain testified he understood that Schurr was fired only because he was charged with second-degree murder.
At the time of the firing, GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom refused to comment. A spokeswoman for the department said he wouldn’t respond to revelations in Friday’s hearing.
In front of a packed courtroom as tears streaked the face of Lyoya’s mother, the prosecution and defense argued whether the case should go to trial.
“This is the moment the shot was fired,” Becker argued, pointing out a photograph that showed Schurr on top of Lyoya. “As a matter of law, can the court say this is necessary to prevent a felon’s escape?”
Or, he said, that it’s self-defense, “that it’s immediately necessary when Patrick is lying face down on the ground with the Taser not even pointed at him (the officer)?”
Lyoya, a 26-year-old native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was shot in the back of the head on April 4 by Schurr after a tussle that included Lyoya grabbing the officer’s Taser. Schurr had pulled him over for a bad license plate.
“This is something for a jury to decide,” Becker said. “Self-defense, it’s something for a jury to decide.”
He said it should be “up to 12 people from Kent County to make the decision as to whether this is reasonable or whether this is necessary.”
Defense attorneys argue Schurr did nothing wrong — that Lyoya became a felon when he resisted arrest. Schurr, they argued, couldn’t just let him go.
“If Patrick Lyoya had run somebody over or gone to a school, which was nearby, we’d be calling him something else,” defense attorney Matthew Borgula said. “At a minimum, we’d be calling him a coward. And so we’re calling him a murderer here because he didn’t let him go.”
And, Lyoya, they argued, remained a threat, even as he lay face down, still struggling, with Schurr on top of him.
McKersie, the former training commander who still serves as the department’s only master Taser instructor, testified that the device that is meant to incapacitate for five seconds was still a threat even after it had been discharged during the encounter.
Schurr, he said, had been voluntarily stunned during training with GRPD, leading the defense to argue that he had a reasonable fear of Lyoya using it and incapacitating him.
McKersie said Schurr was outnumbered, not knowing what Lyoya’s passenger might do, was near exhaustion, feared for his safety and that Lyoya had a significant size advantage over him.
“You have a person who will not comply, who grabs a Taser, who ultimately takes the Taser from his left hand to his right, so at some point it got transferred, and is turning,” Borgula argued.
After the hearing, the prosecutor said he expects the judge to send the case up to Kent County Circuit Court for trial.
“Obviously it’s an important case for the community and it’s just something we’ve got to do based on the law and the facts,” Becker said. “That’s why we’re doing it. It’s nothing more than that.”
The defense attorney said he believes the officer committed no crime.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen an officer who was making a lawful arrest while on duty be charged with murder in the state of Michigan,” Borgula said. “I think it’s unprecedented.”
He said the shot in the back of the head was justified.
“The rule isn’t if you shoot them in the back of the head it’s murder, but if you shoot him in the front of the head, it’s not,” Borgula said. “There’s absolutely no authority for the fact that where you shoot them matters when it comes to deadly force.
“I know it’s upsetting to people that he got shot in the back of the head,” he continued. “It’s upsetting to watch. Nobody wants to see somebody die on camera. But the fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter once he makes the decision to use deadly force where you shoot him.”
The preliminary hearing began Thursday with several witnesses taking the stand, including the man who was a passenger in Lyoya’s car at the time of the shooting, two residents who lived in homes on Nelson Avenue SE where Lyoya was killed and an officer who arrived to the scene following the shooting.
The court will meet again Monday at 10 a.m., at which point Ayoub will announce his decision.
—News 8’s Phil Pinarski contributed to this report.