GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the officer who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya during a traffic stop in Grand Rapids two months ago was formally charged with murder Friday afternoon, his attorneys said his actions were appropriate.
“Your honor, the defense submits that Officer (Christopher) Schurr, on this charge, was justified in his use of force in this episode and is not guilty of this crime,” defense attorney Mark Dodge told the court.
Schurr appeared in a Grand Rapids courtroom via Zoom for arraignment on a count of second-degree murder. A plea of not guilty was entered.
Held in the Calhoun County jail, Schurr wore an orange jail uniform and a blue medical mask. Asked if he understood the charge against him, he replied, “Yes, your honor.” He said he had not yet been able to discuss his rights with his attorneys. Asked if he understood the rights he would have at trial, he replied, “Yes, your honor.”
Kent County Court Services, which stands for the people on bond issues at arraignment, did not object to a 10% bond, noting Schurr had turned himself in and that he is not considered flight risk. Schurr’s attorney Mark Dodge told the judge that Schurr has been cooperative with the investigation so far and said there is no risk to the public in releasing him.
“Your honor, if there is any question as far as how Mr. Schurr is going to behave while this case is pending, the court can simply look to the last two months since this episode arose, your honor,” Dodge said. “And that is nothing but cooperation by Officer Schurr and his attorneys.”
Dodge asked for a $10,000 10% bond.
The judge said he took into account that Schurr turned himself in and was complying with the proceedings, but said the seriousness of the charge still warranted a higher bond. It was set at $100,000 cash or surety. Asked if he understood the conditions of his bond — which included boilerplate requirements like not having guns, not drinking or using drugs and not threatening or assaulting anyone — Schurr replied, “Yes, your honor.”
He posted bond Friday afternoon and was released from the jail, the Calhoun County sheriff said in a statement.
If convicted, the 31-year-old from Grandville faces up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
SCHURR ‘FELT HE WAS IN DANGER OF LETHAL HARM’
After the hearing, Matthew Borgula, another of Schurr’s attorneys, said he is confident a jury will exonerate his client.
“I think when we try this case in a court of law, instead of on social media and on the internet, I think that jury’s going to see clearly that he did everything he was required to do per department policy before lethal force was used,” Borgula said.
“That particular vehicle (Lyoya was driving) matched the description of a car that had been stolen,” he said. “His (Schurr’s) job is to investigate potential crimes and if one is committed in his presence, it’s his job to arrest him.”
He said the video of the April 4 traffic stop and shooting shows Schurr did nothing wrong and did not escalate the situation. The attorneys for Lyoya’s family have argued otherwise, saying Schurr repeatedly failed to deescalate.
“(Schurr) took several steps to the point where he was exhausted and felt he was in danger of lethal harm himself before he decided to pull his weapon,” Borgula said. “I think that’s going to be the defense and I think we’re going to be victorious.”
Use of force experts have said the case could come down to Schurr’s Taser. It had been fired twice (neither deployment hit Lyoya) and could have been in so-called drive-stun mode, where it could still be used as a stun gun in direct contact with the body. Asked if he could comment on that, Borgula said, “I haven’t seen the evidence.”
But he went on to say:
“Certainly the Taser is going to be an important role because that’s the dangerous weapon that was used in the struggle that caused our client to be in fear of great bodily harm,” he said. “A drive-stun Taser is still dangerous. The big question here is what did our client know about whether that second Taser round had been discharged.”
Borgula said the defense team is considering whether Schurr will testify in his own defense about how he perceived the threat.
“Certainly he’s got the right to testify. We haven’t made a decision one way or the other. I anticipate that’s certainly something that we’re going to give great consideration to,” Borgula said.
Schurr and his family have been in hiding, scared, he said.
“He’s been laying low. He’s received threats. People have harassed him and his family,” Borgula said. “He’s confident because he feels he did nothing wrong, but again, he’s very scared. You can imagine a person that has no criminal record. He’s been an upstanding officer for many years.”
ACTIVISTS SHOUT AT SCHURR SUPPORTERS
Before the arraignment began, the courtroom gallery benches were packed with Schurr’s supporters. Many wore blue ribbons and some had T-shirts that read, “Back The Blue. #standwithschurr.” Schurr’s father sat in the front row, wearing a “Back the Blue” shirt and ribbon.
When the courtroom was full, more supporters stood in the hallway. They watched the hearing on their phones.
In the hallway as the arraignment let out and supporters slowly filed out, a separate group of demonstrators chanted, “Justice for Patrick. Justice for Patrick.”
One said to Schurr supporters, “You might be next. Quit your jobs, you might be next. If you love him, tell him to quit his job. He might be next. If you care about these police officers, tell them all to quit their job — they might be next.”
“Karma’s a (expletive), so I hope you all get everything you all deserve,” another activist said to Schurr supporters.
Some used a racial slur to refer to a Black man among the Schurr supporters.
“You look too sweet to believe that you should be shot in the back of the head; you do, you all do,” one demonstrator said to supporters. “I can’t believe that you all believe that somebody should be shot in the back of the head.”
The scene grew more chaotic as activists shouted at Schurr supporters and reporters, criticizing police and Schurr supporters with profanity-laced statements.
Everyone ultimately dispersed without any altercations. News 8 did not see anyone being arrested.
Individuals on both sides declined to speak with News 8.
SCHURR STATEMENT CONFIRMED WHAT VIDEO SHOWED
News 8 obtained a transcript of a verbal testimony from a Michigan State Police detective to get an arrest warrant for Schurr. According to the transcript, which echoes what was seen in videos that were released on April 13, Schurr pulled over a Nissan after running the license plate and finding that it belonged to a Ford on the morning of April 4.
When Schurr approached the driver’s side of the Nissan, the driver, Lyoya, got out of the vehicle, the transcript said. Schurr asked Lyoya if he had a license, which Lyoya said he did and turned to the car to get it. When Lyoya didn’t get his license, he walked away from the vehicle.
The testimony said that Schurr told him to stop and placed a hand on Lyoya’s shoulder. Lyoya then took off running. Schurr followed and radioed into dispatch to say he had “an individual running from him.”
Schurr tackled Patrick roughly 30 feet from the vehicle. A fight began and Schurr gave Lyoya commanded to stop fighting and resisting, court documents said.
Schurr used his Taser, a Model 7, on Lyoya. It has two separate sets of probes and can be deployed twice in probe mode, the transcript said. The first discharge sent the probes into the air. After the first discharge, Lyoya grabbed for the Taser. The pair struggled over the Taser and Schurr told Lyoya to drop the Taser, the probable cause affidavit said.
During the struggle, the pair ended up on the ground with Schurr on Lyoya’s back.
The testimony said that Schurr lost “complete control of the Taser” and that Lyoya had it in his control.
Schurr then pulled his firearm and fired a single round into the back of Lyoya’s head, court documents said.
In Schurr’s written statement, he confirmed that what the Nissan passenger’s video shows — Schurr drawing his firearm and shooting Lyoya in the back of the head, which caused his death — is what happened.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced his decision to file charges against Schurr in a news conference Thursday afternoon. He said based on all the information he was given, Schurr’s actions could not be justified by self-defense.
“I wouldn’t charge if I didn’t think I could prove it,” Becker said.
Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom announced he was taking the initial steps to fire Schurr. As the process moves forward, Schurr will be suspended without pay. A final decision on his employment could happen as soon as early next week.
“We were disappointed to learn that Officer Schurr has been charged with murder by the Kent County Prosecutor. Officer Schurr is a decorated member of law enforcement who has dedicated his career to helping others and protecting the citizens of Grand Rapids.
“The evidence in this case will show that the death of Patrick Lyoya was not murder but an unfortunate tragedy, resulting from a highly volatile situation. Mr. Lyoya continually refused to obey lawful commands and ultimately disarmed a police officer. Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death.
“We are confident that after a jury hears all of the evidence, Officer Schurr will be exonerated.”Mark D. Dodge, Dodge & Dodge, P.C. and Matthew G. Borgula, Springstead Bartish Borgula & Lynch PLLC
Schurr’s next hearing, which will discuss probable cause in the case, is scheduled for June 21. A preliminary examination was scheduled for June 28.
—Target 8 investigator Susan Samples and News 8 digital producer Michael Oszust contributed to this report.