GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Patrick Lyoya’s family has sued the city of Grand Rapids and the former police officer who killed Lyoya, alleging excessive force and a violation of his rights.
The 12-page civil lawsuit was filed by Lyoya’s father on behalf of his estate in federal court on Wednesday. It accuses former Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Chris Schurr of violating of Lyoya’s Fourth Amendment protections against excessive force and of gross negligence and willful and wanton misconduct under state law.
“It’s clear that Schurr unnecessarily escalated a situation involving an unarmed Black man,” Lyoya family attorney Ven Johnson said in a statement. “At no point did Patrick try to hit, punch, kick or slap Schurr, nor did Patrick ever verbally threaten him. Any claim by Schurr that he was in imminent fear for his life is absolutely unreasonable and untrue.”
The suit also argues that the city of Grand Rapids violated Lyoya’s federal civil rights by failing to properly train its officers and by failing to correctly discipline officers after complaints.
“As for the city of Grand Rapids, the Lyoya family claims that the city is liable for federal law and more violations, in that it created the atmosphere at GRPD, which influenced Schurr to use excessive force on Lyoya,” a release from Johnson and famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is also representing the family, said in part.
GRPD has been the subject of an investigation by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the state ultimately filed two discrimination charges against the department. The investigation was started in 2019. The charges came after Lyoya’s death and neither involve his case.
“City (of Grand Rapids) has a policy, practice, procedure, protocol, and/or custom that demonstrates deliberate indifference to the rights of the Plaintiff (Lyoya) and was the cause and moving force behind the violations and harm suffered,” the suit claims.
As an example, the suit said that in 79 excessive force complaints by citizens against GRPD, all but two officers were cleared.
“Tragically and predictably, City’s unconstitutional policies, procedures, protocols, and customs, are moving the force behind the constitutional violations complained of here and Patrick’s death,” the suit reads.
In a short statement provided to News 8 Wednesday, the city said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
“We have not yet received the lawsuit and are unable to address the specifics. Upon receipt, we will review the lawsuit and respond appropriately in court,” the statement reads.
The suit requests a jury trial and seeks punitive damages, attorney fees and other expenses. Though the lawsuit documents do not list a specific dollar amount, Crump called it a “$100 million” suit. The case was assigned to Judge Paul Maloney, the U.S. District Court Western District judge in Kalamazoo.
“The pain is so deep, the bitterness is so deep…” Patrick Lyoya’s father Peter Lyoya said of his son’s death, speaking in his native Swahili with an English interpreter.
“Every time when I sleep during the night, I will dream how my son was shot in the back of the head and I will see my son,” Peter Lyoya said at a Wednesday news conference in Detroit,. “That bitterness is still in me.”
He said he hopes for justice for his son and that the case will prevent other families from experiencing what his is going through.
“What was so amazing to me, is that after Patrick was shot, I thought that his officer, Schurr, the criminal, would be arrested,” Peter Lyoya said. “Amazingly, the man is still free, is at home with his wife and his children and my son is buried and Patrick is dead.”
Schurr remains out of jail on bond. He is charged with second-degree murder for the killing of Patrick Lyoya, 26, during a traffic stop on April 4. Video shows Lyoya ran away and there was a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing Schurr’s Taser. The Taser never made contact with either man. The video shows that Schurr, who was on top of Lyoya trying to hold him down, shot Lyoya in the back of the head.
At the news conference, Johnson replayed the video that GRPD previously released. When it showed Schurr fire the fatal shot, Lyoya’s father shook his head and wiped away tears.
Claiming “inappropriate, excessive, and inexcusable use of force” in the civil suit, Lyoya’s attorneys alleged Schurr pulled Lyoya over unlawfully, failed to deescalate the situation, didn’t wait for backup before engaging Lyoya and drew his Taser while too close to Lyoya.
Johnson argued Schurr should have radioed for backup as soon as Lyoya stepped away from him and that rather than struggling with him, Schurr should have backed off, waited for more officers to arrive and just let Lyoya run.
“You have the car, you have the front-seat passenger. Keys are still in it. You don’t need to engage,” Johnson said. “That’s what deescalation is all about.”
“Schurr knew that after the second deployment his Taser could only be used as a drive-stun. Yet, he pinned Patrick to the ground using his fully body weight on Patrick’s back,” the lawsuit reads in part.
The lawsuit adds that Schurr didn’t warn Lyoya before using the Taser or shooting him.
“Under federal law, you have to give someone a warning, if feasible, if possible — which clearly it was possible here — before you shoot them dead,” Johnson said. “In this case, not only is our client on the ground, he’s not pointing the Taser at Schurr when Schurr blows his head off.
“Sorry, Peter,” Johnson added to Lyoya’s father.
The suit argues it was “objectively unreasonable” for Schurr to shoot Lyoya.
“This is so unnecessary,” Ben Crump said. “It is so unnecessary that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by former officer Schurr.”
Schurr’s defense team argues he acted in self-defense and in accordance with GRPD policy.
In October, Schurr was ordered to stand trial for second-degree murder. No trial date has yet been set.
—News 8’s Michael Oszust contributed to this report.