GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When the Lyoya family escaped deadly violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they thought they’d found safe haven in America.
They never imagined it would be here, in the United States, that their first-born son would meet a violent end at the hands of police.
Peter Lyoya confirmed to News 8 that it was his son, Patrick Lyoya, who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police Department officer on Griggs Southeast Monday morning.
A GRPD officer had pulled him over. He fled but was apprehended by the officer, police say.
GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom on Monday said Patrick Lyoya struggled with the officer, and after a “lengthy fight” the officer shot and killed him.
The officer’s name has not been released.
Michigan State Police is handling the investigation, which is standard protocol.
Patrick Lyoya, 26, lived in Grand Rapids. He had a girlfriend and two young daughters.
“He was a good kid, a smart kid. He was a hard worker,” Peter Lyoya, who speaks Swahili, told News 8 through interpreter Israel Siku.
“I want to say for those people who are seeking asylum here, refuge, I don’t want you to think this is a safe place,” said Peter Lyoya. “I thought it was a safe place, but it seems like we are in danger even when we come here.”
Peter Lyoya met with Winstrom Tuesday afternoon but said he still has no answers regarding why his son was killed.
“We’re looking for the reason, the cause, why Patrick was killed today. We want to know, ‘why?’ … I’m mourning. I’m crying. I’m deeply hurt to see that I lost my first born at the age of 26. I never dreamed that one day I would be the one burying my son,” he said.
He said Grand Rapids police would not show him any video from the officer’s body-worn camera nor share details about what led up to the shooting.
Peter Lyoya also told News 8 the passenger who was with his son recorded video on his phone, but Grand Rapids police confiscated it.
“What is so hurting me, what is so astonishing, I don’t even know where the body of my son is,” Peter Lyoya told News 8 through a translator. “When we try to do investigation to find out where Patrick is, they cannot allow me to go see my son’s body.”
The family was assisted throughout the day by Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack, who said he plans to address policies and red tape that prevent families from obtaining even basic information.
“My heart really goes out to the father and mother and family because this is just too painful for any family to go through, especially being denied some of the basic rights like to see their son,” said Womack, who noted the Lyoya family is asking for the community to remain peaceful. “The family does not want violence tied to their son’s name, but they do want a thorough investigation and they want justice if their son’s life was taken without cause.”
Womack urged residents to withhold judgment until the investigation is completed.
“It’s still under investigation,” said Womack. “All of us think we know more than we really know, but it’s going to be best for us to see this investigation all the way out.”
Patrick Lyoya’s father said he was not aware of his son having any prior interactions with police.
Michigan State Police records show the young man had three arrests related to stolen property and pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in each case.
The records also show four traffic-related offenses, including convictions for operating while intoxicated and driving on a suspended license.
Wyoming District Court records also show a judge signed an arrest warrant for Lyoya on April 1 in a second-offense domestic violence case.
His father told News 8 Patrick Lyoya would often make the trip to Lansing where the rest of the family lives.
“He was a sharing person. He helped his family. If he had money, he would share with them,” Peter Lyoya said through an interpreter.
He also said he believes his son was killed because of the color of his skin.
“I’m talking to my fellow African Americans just to be very careful because we are being killed. Just be very careful when you are out there because it seems like your life doesn’t have any meaning,” he said.
Peter Lyoya, who came to the News 8 studio after meeting with the police chief, was accompanied by several Congolese refugees, including his brother, Joshua Kibezi Munonge.
Kibezi Munonge is Patrick Lyoya’s uncle and the head of the African Community Kalamazoo, a nonprofit organization.
He told News 8 he wanted people to know the struggles African immigrants face in Michigan.
“People take advantage of immigrants. … Work. You can be fired without any reasons. You can be forced to move from an apartment without reason,” Kibezi Munonge said. “We don’t know the laws. We don’t have organizations involved in our community, and that’s a big, big problem we have. That’s a barrier we have. … All our community. We are suffering.”
Kibezi Munonge also wanted police to know that his community supports them.
“We love police. We are praying for police. If they came to us, we are ready to collaborate in a good way,” said Kibezi Munonge.
Freddie Nyembwe, the leader of the Congolese community in Lansing, urged everyone to love one another.
“It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. We have the same color of blood. We are the same people,” Nyembwe said. “Where is the love? There is no more love. Why is people killing other people?”
Ngandu Amisi, the president of the Congolese community in West Michigan, also accompanied Peter Lyoya.
Amisi asked police in Michigan and nationwide to protect civilians, not shoot them.
“We as Africans, because of the color of our skin, by the way they’re killing us. It’s going to push us to believe that we are not important in this country. … We will come to conclude there is strong discrimination against people of color,” said Amisi through the interpreter.
— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.