Warning: This article contains video that shows the moments leading up to Patrick Lyoya’s death. Viewer discretion is advised.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Promising transparency and a thorough investigation, the Grand Rapids Police Department on Wednesday released video that shows an officer pulling over Patrick Lyoya and a long struggle between the two that ends with the officer shooting and killing Lyoya.
GRPD showed four videos at a press conference: from a dashboard camera, a body camera, a doorbell camera and a cellphone. News 8 is not using video showing the moment of death. You can watch the full GRPD press conference with the full video on the city’s YouTube channel. The video blurred the faces of bystanders but not Lyoya’s face, nor the face of the officer.
The shooting happened the morning of April 4 on Nelson Avenue north of Griggs Street on the city’s Southeast side. The officer pulled Lyoya over around 8:11 a.m. after realizing that the plate on the car he was driving didn’t match the vehicle. GRPD has not said why the officer ran the plate.
Dashboard camera and body camera video shows that as soon as he stopped Lyoya, Lyoya got out of the car. The officer told him to get back in the car, but Lyoya didn’t. The officer asked him if he had a license. Lyoya seemed confused. The officer asked if he spoke English. Lyoya said he did. The officer asked again for his license. Lyoya asked what he had done wrong. The officer told Lyoya the plate didn’t match the car and repeated that he wanted to see his license. Lyoya opened the driver’s side door of the car and asked someone inside for his license. It’s unclear whether or not the passenger could find the license, but Lyoya closed the door without getting it.
When Lyoya stepped away, the officer tried to stop him. Lyoya then ran away and the officer gave chase, reporting that over his radio. A long struggle ensued in the front yards of houses, with the officer trying to hold Lyoya down but Lyoya repeatedly trying to get back up. After about 30 seconds, the officer called for more cars.
In the video, the officer is seen atop Lyoya, struggling to hold him down. The officer can be heard telling Lyoya to “stop” and “stop resisting.”
The officer drew his Taser. The bodycam video shows Lyoya grab for it as the sound of it deploying can be heard.
GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom said his understanding is that the Taser was deployed twice but did not actually make contact with Lyoya; both times were into the ground.
In the doorbell surveillance video, the officer can be heard repeatedly telling Lyoya to let go of the Taser.
The cellphone video shows the officer, still atop Lyoya and trying to hold him down, pull his gun. Once more, he tells Lyoya to let go of the Taser. Moments later, a single shot is fired.
The video shows the officer backing away from Lyoya and reporting the shooting over his radio.
In all, the video shows, it was about four and a half minutes between when Lyoya got out of the car and when the shot was fired. It was about one minute between when the Taser can first be heard deploying and when the shot was fired.
Winstrom said Lyoya was shot in the head. The chief noted he did not have the full autopsy report, which is not yet done.
GRPD says it has nine source videos, including four from the doorbell camera. Its release of video shortened some of those sources so as not to include the aftermath of the shooting, which the department said “was done to expedite their public release in the interest of transparency.”
Winstrom noted that the investigation is still in its early stages and investigators’ understanding of what happened may still change.
He also said that at this point, he is not prepared to make a determination about whether the officer was justified or followed department policy or whether he will face discipline. The only conclusion he would make was that he “view(s) it as a tragedy.”
“The loss of life in any circumstances is sad. And when I know that it’s going to impact our city like this, it’s more sadness,” Winstrom said.
The officer, Winstrom told News 8 later, is “shaken up” by what happened.
“It’s tough,” he said.
CITY OFFICIALS PROMISE TRANSPARENCY
Opening the press conference at Grand Rapids City Hall, City Manager Mark Washington called it a “very sad day for our city, our state and our country.”
“Unfortunately, I’m here today because our city is now added to the list of cities across the country where another African American has died as a result of the use of the use of force with the interaction of law enforcement,” Washington said.
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss was at the press conference but did not speak. She released a statement saying she was “disturbed by this horrible tragedy.”
Washington offered condolences to the Lyoya family, as did the mayor, the chief and Brandon Davis, the director of the city Office of Oversight and Public Accountability. Washington also acknowledged the toll of the death on law enforcement.
“This is also a very difficult time for the member of our police department and the officers, specifically, as they process this very regrettable event in which a life has to be taken in enforcement of the law,” Washington said.
He said it was hard to watch the video and said he would keep asking questions about what could have been done to prevent the shooting.
“As city manager, the public has my commitment to get through this together, but there will be understandably expressions of shock of anger and of pain,” Washington said. “We acknowledge that this is a necessary process, but the city has the courage to embrace the tough questions and answer those questions and are committed to operating with full transparency and accountability to make sure that justice prevails.”
Washington praised Chief Winstrom’s transparency and said Winstrom is an expert in the use of force and noted he is also an attorney, so he is positioned to “find answers, identify accountability and propose improvements.”
Winstrom has been the police chief in Grand Rapids for 37 days. He said a commitment to transparency is why he and city leaders decided to release the video now.
“We have an outside agency looking into this incident. It’s the Michigan State Police. Generally speaking, when they complete their investigation is traditionally when videos like this would be released,” Winstrom said. “We felt that on balance it was more important to be transparent with the community to provide what information the Grand Rapids Police Department has immediately before that process is finished.”
Davis, of the city oversight office, said at the press conference that his agency is keeping an eye on how GRPD is handling the shooting.
“When a life, particularly the life of a Black man is lost during an interaction with law enforcement, there’s a great deal of emotion frustration and anger,” Davis acknowledged. “As an oversight professional, it is important that our review monitor and audit all investigations impartially based on law and policy and I will do that.”
He promised an inquiry that will look at what happened and how GRPD responded, including how long it took to release the video, when an officer’s name should be released after a shooting, how long it took to render aid to Lyoya and whether any policy changes are needed.
“However, right now, the most important thing for my office to do is to monitor this investigation to ensure that there is truth and accountability,” Davis said.
He said Winstrom and GRPD have so far welcomed his oversight, noting that Winstrom called him to the scene of the shooting the day it happened.
“(GRPD’s internal affairs) investigation will be monitored by the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability. We will audit that investigation. We will seek transparency. We will seek truth,” Davis said. “Justice requires that this matter be handled fairly and efficiently. The Lyoya family and all the parties involved deserve a fair and transparent investigation. As the director of OPA, I will do everything in my power to make sure that that happens.”
Winstrom said he is welcome to Davis’ office’s ideas.
“I’m very reform-minded and I’m sure that I’m going to find ways that the Grand Rapids Police Department can do things better and I’m interested in getting us there,” the chief said.
Davis stressed that neither the city nor GRPD have any authority to decide whether charges are appropriate in the case. He said that is the responsibility of Michigan State Police and the county prosecutor.
FAMILY’S ATTORNEY CALLS FOR OFFICER’S FIRING
The attorney for Lyoya’s family, Ben Crump, who also represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, will hold a press conference Thursday afternoon addressing the footage.
In a Wednesday statement, Crump said the officer used excessive force.
“Patrick Lyoya immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pursue the American Dream and provide a better and safer life for himself and his family,” Crump said in his statement. “Instead, what found him was a fatal bullet to the back of the head, delivered by an officer of the Grand Rapids Police Department. The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive, and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life. It should be noted that Patrick never used violence against this officer even though the officer used violence against him in several instances for what was a misdemeanor traffic stop.”
Crump, a civil rights attorney, argued the officer should be terminated.
“We demand that the officer who killed Patrick not only be terminated for his use of excessive and fatal force, but be arrested and prosecuted for the violent killing of Patrick Lyoya,” Crump said.
Jimmy Barwan, also an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he had been friends with Lyoya for 14 years and treated him like a brother. He wondered why the officer drew his gun.
“They got somebody on the ground; they got somebody on the ground already sleeping. Why couldn’t you just handcuff him or something,” Barwan told News 8 after watching the video. “Yes, I understand there was a Taser and I know all that stuff, but why not use any other legal force, you could’ve called for backup, anything.
“Why shoot him? Why kill him?” he continued. “What did he do to deserve that? And he was unarmed, no gun.”
He said he was overwhelmed by grief.
“I’m feeling a lot of emotions and it really hurts, it pains me, every time I keep talking to you, I keep seeing his face. I keep replaying moments that we had dancing and all that. It breaks me,” Barwan said. “How am I supposed to raise my kids here? And I don’t have no kids yet, but how can I trust that they’re going to be safe out here?”
The mismatched license plate for which Lyoya was stopped is not a felony. The police chief said that to his knowledge, the only weapons on scene were the officer’s Taser and the officer’s firearm, though he qualified that by saying he didn’t have all the information that Michigan State Police have. Winstrom said he didn’t know why the officer made the stop alone.
Asked why the officer didn’t simply let Lyoya go rather than fighting him, the chief said he didn’t have the answer to that question because the shooting is not GRPD’s case. He told News 8 later that the department doesn’t have a specific foot chase policy and that officers learn how to respond in scenario-based training with police actors.
PROSECUTOR DOESN’T HAVE THE CASE
Michigan State Police is investigating the shooting, which is standard procedure anytime a Grand Rapids officer uses deadly force. The agency said Monday it hopes to get its investigation to the Kent County prosecutor by the end of the week, though that’s not set in stone.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker does not expect to reach a decision this week about whether the officer was justified in his use of force or whether charges are appropriate. He was not at the press conference but said in a statement afterward that he did not have the case. He called for the community’s patience.
“This is an extremely critical incident, and one that everyone involved in the investigation is taking very seriously,” Becker wrote. “The Michigan State Police are doing everything they can to complete the investigation in a timely manner, however it takes time to carefully gather the evidence. We do not have all of the evidence for review. I don’t have an opportunity to review a case until I have all the evidence.”
He noted it could take weeks for the investigation to be completed. He also pointed out that the video isn’t the only evidence he needs.
“It is important to note, while the videos released today are an important piece of evidence, they are not all of the evidence. Our office has never made, and will not make, a decision based on partial evidence,” Becker wrote. “By law, we are required to review all available evidence before we consider whether charges should be filed, and if so, what appropriate charges should be. This careful consideration of all evidence is a very important step in our criminal justice system.”
He promised a “thorough review” of the video, witness statements, radio traffic, crime scene reports and the autopsy.
“As I have said in a previous statement, I have one goal – the pursuit of truth – and I am committed to that,” Becker promised. “We must follow legal and ethical guidelines to ensure the integrity of this process. We cannot do anything until the investigation is complete, and we have all the information we need to make an informed decision. This will take time and I once again ask for the community’s patience.”
The officer’s name has not been released, and Winstrom said he wouldn’t release it because he doesn’t face charges.
“I treat the officer like I would anybody else. We don’t name suspects,” Winstrom said. “If the officer is charged with a crime, we will name him at that time.”
The officer has been with GRPD for about seven years. Winstrom said he had not reviewed his training record to know whether he underwent deescalation training.
AUTOPSY REPORT NOT YET COMPLETE
In a statement early Wednesday afternoon, before the video was released, Kent County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle said that he conducted Lyoya’s autopsy April 4 but the report was not yet available to the public. The medical examiner is awaiting toxicology and tissue test results. Cohle said those results can take 60 days, though he has asked for a rush. Even once those results are back, the full autopsy report won’t be released until after the police investigation is finished.
“This is the standard operating procedure to ensure the integrity of the investigative process,” Cohle stated.
He added that his office is still holding Lyoya’s body pending instructions from the family on whether to release it to a funeral home or an independent agency if the family requests its own autopsy.
“My office understands that the families we work with are grieving,” Cohle’s statement said. “We strive to ensure every family is treated with dignity and respect and is supported with compassion and honest information to help them make appropriate arrangements. I have personally spoken with Mr. Lyoya’s father (via interpreter), and my office stands ready to assist him with the release of his son’s body when the family has reached a decision on the arrangements.”
PREPARATION FOR PROTESTS
In anticipation of demonstrations over the next few days and this weekend, City Manager Washington said in a statement before the video was released that he “fully support(s) our residents exercising their First Amendment rights” and also that he was working with organizers to make sure those protests happen “in a safe and productive manner.”
“Due to the focus of the protest being on our police department, we have taken some precautionary measures around that facility to facilitate continued access and uninterrupted operations,” Washington’s statement continued, referencing the concrete barriers topped with chain-link fence installed around GRPD headquarters Tuesday. “This not only secures the facility but ensures we’re able to provide public safety continuity of service for the entire community. I understand these precautions may be alarming to some, I can assure you that we have no current indication of an imminent threat.”
He added that the city “does not anticipate any threats to people or property in the downtown area.”
“Following (the) video release, we will continue to prioritize the safety of our community and provide additional direction if necessary,” the statement concluded.
Chief Winstrom told News 8 that he has canceled time off for his officers in the coming days and is working with other agencies.
Temporary chain-link fences were also put up around the Kent County Courthouse downtown. A couple of businesses on Monroe Center, down the street from GRPD headquarters, boarded up their windows.
In a statement released to News 8 Wednesday morning, Lyoya’s family called for the community to avoid protests for the time being.
“No protests at this time. We don’t want violence out there. We want to avoid any violence.”Lyoya family
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a statement following the press conference saying she and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist have spoken with Lyoya’s family.
“The Lieutenant Governor and I spoke with Patrick’s family and our hearts are with them and the Grand Rapids community who are dealing with unimaginable pain and loss. Patrick was 26. He arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family fleeing violence. He had his whole life ahead of him. Patrick was a son, a dad of two young daughters, and an older brother to his five siblings,” Whitmer said in the statement.
She said MSP will conduct an investigation that is transparent and independent and then prosecutors should consider the evidence and “take appropriate action.”
She also called for protests to remain peaceful.
Grand Valley State University’s interim provost sent a letter to faculty and staff Wednesday suggesting they shift Pew Campus and Health Campus classes to virtual learning.
“Some students may be emotionally unable to attend class tonight (or later this week) or may find it logistically problematic to get to class,” Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs wrote in the letter.
Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby said in a letter to the community that the shooting can be a traumatic event for students.
“Nearly 80% of our school community is comprised of students of color and within that an immigrant population that is more than 40% African. As a district, we are positioned to support our community as details and information continue to unfold,” Roby wrote in the letter. “We take this position seriously. Though this is a fresh tragedy, it speaks to a familiar pain felt by communities of color. This is a pain that they know all too well. As such, the struggle to reconcile the painful realities of this situation – previously far away from our city – is now on our front porch.”
She said the school has resources for trauma care at grps.org.
Rockford Public Schools Interim Superintendent Korie Wilson-Crawford sent a notice to the school community regarding the video release of the death of Patrick Lyoya. She advised parents and guardians to watch their children closely on technology in the coming days after the video is released, so that children “don’t become further desensitized to violence or exposed to content that could be detrimental.”
Wilson-Crawford said there are many resources at RPS available to help adults have difficult conversations with their children, including a pdf that she attached to the letter. RPS Counseling and mental health staff is ready. Parents are advised to reach out to their child’s principal if those resources are needed.
—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell, Jacqueline Francis, Whitney Burney, Susan Samples and Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.