DETROIT (WOOD) — Patrick Lyoya died of a single gunshot wound to the back of the head, a forensic pathologist hired by the attorneys for Lyoya’s family found when conducting an autopsy.
Lyoya, 26, died April 4. Video released by the Grand Rapids Police Department last week shows the officer pulling Lyoya over. There was then a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing the officer’s Taser. The officer, who was atop Lyoya as the two struggled, ultimately shot him once in the head, killing him.
The private autopsy was conducted at a Grand Rapids funeral home Saturday by Dr. Werner Spitz, 95, of southeastern Michigan. He is a well-known forensic pathologist who has looked into the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and also worked on the O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Casey Anthony cases.
Spitz’s conclusion was that a large-caliber bullet entered the center back of Lyoya’s head and traveled up and to the right before stopping near his right temple. At a Tuesday morning news conference with Lyoya’s attorneys in Detroit, Spitz showed a model illustrating the trajectory of the bullet.
Spitz’s autopsy report, which attorney Ben Crump read at the press conference, said death was instantaneous. He said fragmenting of the skull indicates the gun was in contact with Lyoya’s head when it was fired.
“The deceased was conscious and aware that a gun was being held to the back of his head,” Spitz wrote.
Spitz said at the press conference that the only injury he could find on the body was the bullet wound. At an attorney’s prompting, he added that he did not see defensive wounds like those that would be found on someone in a highly physical altercation.
The Kent County Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy the day Lyoya died. Last week, he said he was awaiting toxicology and tissue test results before he could finish his report. He said the report wouldn’t be released to the public until the police investigation of the shooting is finished.
Spitz could not conduct a toxicology screen because of how long it was between when Lyoya died and when Spitz had access to his body.
The attorneys for Lyoya’s parents — civil rights attorney Crump, who also represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Michigan’s Ven Johnson — have called for the officer to be fired and for him to be charged. They say he repeatedly failed to deescalate the situation.
“We see no deescalation with this police officer. In fact, we see the very opposite. He continues to escalate at every stage, leading to the deadly execution with Patrick being shot in the back of the head,” Crump said at the news conference.
The Lyoya family did not attend Tuesday’s news conference. Speaking on their behalf, Crump said Lyoya’s parents are devastated by the findings.
“Their hearts were snatched out of their body,” Crump said. “They cannot believe that the person that was supposed to protect their son executed their son.”
Crump said the attorneys are looking into whether the officer pulled Lyoya over because he was Black. In the video, the officer says he stopped Lyoya because his car was bearing a license plate that didn’t match.
The attorneys are preparing to file a civil lawsuit, though Crump said whether that goes forward will be based on what the city of Grand Rapids does next.
Johnson questioned how the officer’s body camera stopped recorded during the struggle with Lyoya. The bodycam also fell off the officer. The Grand Rapids police chief previously said it takes three seconds of pressure to turn off a bodycam and that it can be detached from the body with a quarter turn.
Johnson said the Lyoya legal team has retained a police policy and procedures expert, though Johnson did not use his name.
“This is not a deadly force scenario,” Johnson argued at the press conference. “At the moment this officer drew his weapon … (he) never gave a verbal warning, which is required under the federal law if it’s feasible… Patrick never got a warning about the use of a Taser.”
He said that even if the Taser, which had already been deployed twice but may have still been able to stun someone, had been used against the officer, its use would not have been incapacitating. He argued it was therefore inappropriate for the officer to use deadly force because he did not face a deadly threat.
“Go back and look at (the video) as we looked at it, frame by frame. You will see right that second, the millisecond, the nanosecond, that he shoots him, he has his hand on his head, pushing it into the ground. He is in complete control of Patrick at that point. Both of his knees have him prone to the ground where he has control of him,” Crump said. “…Common sense would tell you if you didn’t have control, you would not remove your dominant hand, he feels in such control that he removes his dominant hand to take his gun out, with ease, seems like, and then to put it in the back of Patrick’s head.”
The attorneys said the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the case.
“The only injury to (Lyoya’s) body was the shot to the back of the head. And remember, Patrick was not violent to the police. The police were violent to Patrick. Look at the video. It was the police punching him. It was the police kneeing him. Patrick not once swung at the police or did anything. He kept trying to walk away,” Crump said. “In America, you should not be sentenced to death for walking away from the police. But that’s the reality in the Black community.”
Michigan State Police are handling the investigation into the shooting, which is GRPD protocol following the use of deadly force. MSP will turn its findings over to the Kent County prosecutor, who will decide whether the shooting was justified or whether charges are warranted.
Lyoya’s funeral is scheduled for Friday. Rev. Al Sharpton will speak. News 8 will carry the funeral live on woodtv.com and on WXSP.
—News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.