GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A national expert in police force who testified in the George Floyd wrongful death civil case said he was not surprised at the second-degree murder charge filed Thursday against a Grand Rapids police officer in the death of Patrick Lyoya.
It wasn’t, he said, just because of the video that showed Officer Christopher Schurr shooting Lyoya in the back of the head on April 4.
“In today’s world, we’re seeing a lot of officers being charged, where years ago they wouldn’t have been charged,” University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert said. “It would have been a civil issue.
“It may be that prosecutors are now just looking at these events differently,” he said.
Alpert co-authored the book, “Evaluating Police Uses of Force.” His co-author, Professor Seth Stoughton, had watched the video of the Lyoya shooting for Target 8 when it was released in mid-April.
But Alpert said Stoughton, who testified in the George Floyd criminal case, was one of the experts consulted by the Kent County prosecutor in the Lyoya case.
Stoughton told Target 8 he couldn’t comment.
Stoughton previously told Target 8 that the Lyoya shooting should never have happened and that Schurr should have let him go, allowing police to catch up with him later. Stoughton questioned the officer’s training and why he pulled the Taser while so close to Lyoya.
“Deploying the Taser at close range is not a good idea, because the guy can grab it. That’s exactly why you don’t do that,” Stoughton said earlier.
Alpert said he also watched the video that shows the struggle and the moment that Schurr shot Lyoya.
“The video was troubling, and while we can’t tell what happened exactly and you certainly can’t rush to judgment, it certainly raises some issues that need to be explored,” Alpert said.
But, he said, the video alone may not be enough to convict the officer.
“It’s very difficult to determine when a civil wrong rises to the level of a crime, and that’s something that a jury has to decide, and it’s not an easy decision,” Alpert said. “Even if you understand that what an officer did was wrong, at what level was it wrong? And that’s a tough call.”
He said the condition of the Taser that Lyoya and the officer fought over could be the key.
“It said in the reports that the Taser had been shot twice, so it’s unlikely there’d be another cartridge,” he said.
In that case, he said, it likely could only have been used in what is called drive-stun mode through direct contact with the body.
“That’s really just a pain-compliance tool, and officers should be used to taking hits from Tasers” during training, he said.
“That certainly could be something that convinces a jury that he was in imminent fear of his life, or he wasn’t,” Alpert said.