GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On the job for one month, new Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom is managing the aftermath of one of his officers shooting and killing a man.
The shooting happened Monday morning after a traffic stop on the city’s Southeast side. GRPD says Patrick Lyoya ran away and then struggled with the officer. After a “lengthy fight,” the chief previously said, the officer shot and killed Lyoya.
Winstrom said he met with Lyoya’s father Peter Lyoya Tuesday at GRPD headquarters downtown.
“Peter was sitting next to me and he was crying and I was crying, too,” Winstrom told News 8 Wednesday. “I get it as a father, and it’s an absolute tragedy anytime a life is lost and to sit next to the father of (someone) who just died, it’s tough. It’s not the first time I’ve been through it. Hopefully, it’s the last time I’ll be through it, in regards to a police-involved incident, but it’s just heart-wrenching.”
He said Peter Lyoya wants to see the video of the shooting because he wants to know exactly what happened.
“He really wants answers,” Winstrom said at the WOOD TV8 Live Desk. “And unfortunately because the investigation is in such a way that (Michigan State Police) is handling it, I don’t have all the answers. But listening to him, I heard the urgency. Being a father, I understand. It’s his oldest son. A lot of tears shed in the office.”
Winstrom said Peter Lyoya had also not yet been able to see his son’s body. The chief said he worked to help set that up with the medical examiner. The chief also brought in a victims’ services advocate to help the family.
“Terrible, terrible, tragic situation,” Winstrom said. “So whatever we can do to ease his pain, I’m certainly going to do for him.”
Promising transparency, the chief said he is working to release the video next week to provide answers to the family and public.
“It’s important for the Grand Rapids Police Department to get this information, in the spirit of transparency, out as soon as possible,” Winstrom said. “However, even more important than that is making sure that (Peter Lyoya) sees the information first and he knows that he’s our No. 1 priority.”
He said the video has to be reviewed and redacted to remove anything that’s legally sensitive or that could affect criminal investigations. The chief said he has two people preparing the video for release and he called one of them back from vacation to get to work on it.
The chief said one of his priorities has been making sure the department has the resources, including people, tools and training, to make the video review and release process happen quickly.
“Less than a month into my tenure, I didn’t think it was going to be an issue this soon,” Winstrom said.
The officer’s body camera fell off his uniform in the struggle, police say, but it kept rolling. The chief said the camera hooks on a clip with a quarter turn, so it’s not impossible for it to fall off in a scuffle.
Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack — who has met with the family — called for the video to be released immediately in a Wednesday Facebook post.
“This was an execution,” Womack wrote. “The lie that Patrick died in direct combat, and was shot to stop him from fighting, is a lie.”
The commissioner said his “career was threatened” by police and politicians. He said those threats did not come from the chief.
“This is going to cost me my career but I have made my mind up. I was elected to be transparent and I am willing to pay the price. Gun violence by my community, or by the police, will not be tolerated,” he wrote.
Winstrom said he explained to Lyoya’s family that Michigan State Police is investigating the shooting. It’s standard protocol to bring in an outside agency to investigate an officer’s use of deadly force. Winstrom said he was scheduled to meet with MSP Wednesday afternoon for an update.
“I’m pretty confident that the Michigan State Police will have this (investigation) wrapped up within two months at the latest, but I’m very optimistic it will be done quite soon,” Winstrom said.
When asked if Lyoya was armed at the time of the shooting, Winstrom said he would not know because MSP is handling the investigation.
“It’s because of the separation of the investigation and it’s because I want that division to give them a complete independent investigation,” he added later.
But he also told News 8 that in the video he saw, he could not see if Lyoya had a gun.
The chief said he expects to sit down with the officer Thursday to get his statement, but those comments will not be released to the public and will be part of MSP’s investigation.
“Essentially, ‘What happened?'” the chief said he would ask the officer, whose name has not been released.
Lyoya’s family has expressed concerns that race may have played a role in the shooting. Lyoya was Black and the officer white. The chief said at this point, he hasn’t seen anything that indicates that was the case.
“But I certainly am not criticizing him and am open to hear any sort of criticism that he has to say and if there’s information I can provide to ease his mind or ease the public’s mind, or if there is some sort of issue for me to look into, I certainly will,” Winstrom said.
He added that Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, run by Brandon Davis, will look at what happened and make a recommendation on whether discipline is appropriate, as well as if the situation should result in any policy or training changes.
“I think what this (the shooting) is going to do is put a fine point on the urgency of the nature of making sure what’s in place in the Grand Rapids Police Department is best practices in policing, and so it’s just added a sense of urgency in making sure we’re doing policing right here,” Winstrom said.
“I know moving forward over the next few weeks, we’re going to have a lot of discussions about this police-involved shooting and policing in general and I want to the input from the Grand Rapids community,” he added. “I want to know how Grand Rapids wants to be policed. That’s the only way we get our legitimacy.”
VIDEO OF UNRELATED TRAFFIC STOP
Winstrom also responded to criticism brewing on social media stemming from video in which officers point weapons at a woman who says she is pregnant.
The video, posted on Facebook by Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, shows armed officers at the scene of a traffic stop last week. In the caption, Womack said the officers didn’t use any de-escalation tactics, writing, “This is not how a traffic stop is supposed to look.”
Chief Winstrom said the situation began when police attempted to stop a vehicle with no license plate.
“The vehicle did not stop and instead picked up speed,” the chief said Wednesday.
Winstrom explained the officers followed the car to a house, where the driver ran inside as officers ordered him to come outside. The driver’s girlfriend, who lives at the house, recorded the video from the porch, repeatedly asking officers why they were pointing their guns at a pregnant woman.
The 2.5-minute video ends shortly after Winstrom arrived on scene after an officer with home he was riding along was called for backup.
“I had been there and I had saw the aftermath, but I didn’t know what the beginning was,” Winstrom told News 8.
Afterward, he watched the entire incident play out using body camera video.
“Officers, not only did they do everything right, but the woman ended up apologizing to the officers (and) the man apologized to the officers,” Winstrom said. “I reached out to the county commissioner (who posted the video) and said, ‘Come on.'”
The Grand Rapids Police Department also responded to the video in Facebook post Tuesday.
ONE MONTH PERSPECTIVE
Winstrom, who came to Grand Rapids from Chicago, is still working to get his certification to be a police officer in Michigan. That’s why he’s not yet working in uniform. He said the process is going as expected — he should complete it by April 29 and be in uniform in May.
Winstrom said in only one month, he has felt welcomed and already witnessed a “good, positive, strong foundation” to build the kind of department and community relations he wants to.
He said he has been out on the street with officers as often as possible. His first ride-along was with the Homeless Outreach Team, which he said impressed him enormously. He appreciated the partnership with firefighters and mental health organization Network180 and the relationship the officers have with people who are homeless.
“This is the model that I’m going to be calling Chicago, and saying, ‘Hey, you guys need this,'” he said.
He said during the interview process, there were lots of comments about mistrust of the department. But once in the job, he said, he saw a team that is professional.
Still, he said, he wants to meet more people in the community and help GRPD improve to be the best it can be.
Recognizing the divide between GRPD and the city’s minority communities, Winstrom said he wants to meet with as many people as possible and work to build a healthier relationship. He has already met with the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
“When I see a marked police car, I feel safe,” Winstrom said he told NAACP President Cle Jackson. “I said, ‘Is the issue … that people, especially in the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, when they see a marked police car driving by, does not that bring a level of comfort to them?’ And he (Jackson) said, ‘That’s exactly what we’re talking about. That’s it.’ So that’s the challenge.”
He said he knows the shooting is going to be a test of his department, but he is ready to work hard to build bridges.
“There’s going to be a lot of people that have a lot of opinions and I’m going to listen and I’m going to make the commitment that if we can do better, we are going to do better,” Winstrom said.
—News 8 digital anchor Luke Laster, reporter Jacqueline Francis and site producer Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.