GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Having not finished its own inquiry, Michigan’s civil rights watchdog has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to help investigate if the Grand Rapids Police Department has engaged in systemic discrimination.
The request comes after Patrick Lyoya, 26, was shot and killed by a GRPD officer on April 4. The city released video of that shooting Wednesday. It 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.
“We are not free to discuss the specifics of this tragic event, as we have ongoing investigations into civil rights complaints involving the Grand Rapids Police Department,” said John Johnson, the executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
“First and foremost, we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Patrick Lyoya, and the entire Grand Rapids community who are hurting and traumatized by this horrific incident,” Johnson said. “I want to take a moment to commend the citizens of Grand Rapids, who have demonstrated that a heartbroken community can forcefully and peacefully make their voices heard, while working to ensure that this tragic incident does not lead to escalating violence and trauma for a community that is already suffering.”
For years, Grand Rapids’ Black and brown communities have pushed GRPD to change the way it polices them, fearing what happened to Lyoya.
“I’m just consumed with rage that in 2022, we’re still dealing with this,” Rev. Jerry Bishop of LifeQuest Ministries in Grand Rapids said. “Now it’s resulted in death.”
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights launched a probe into systemic discrimination by GRPD in 2019 but never finished it, realizing it did not have the resources needed to fully investigate.
“We’re the smallest department in the state, with only 29 investigators charged with investigating every complaint,” Johnson explained to News 8 over Zoom Thursday.
The MDCR has 29 open complaints against GRPD.
“There’s certainly a sense that there needs to be some addressing of civil rights issues at the Grand Rapids Police Department,” Johnson said.
In 2017, GRPD held three unarmed kids, all Black and none older than 14, at gunpoint after mistaking them for a group with a reported gun. Later that year, officers held a 11-year-old Black girl named Honestie Hodges at gunpoint and handcuffed her. The public backlash prompted the creation of a new youth interaction policy and new training. The city hired consultants to recommend changes and worked to build trust. In 2018, officers thought a suspect description matched two young people who turned out to be innocent 11-year-old twins, also Black.
“When I had my hands on my head, one in front of me, he was behind his car pointing a gun at me,” one of the twins told Target 8 in 2020.
“They are not the same children,” their mother said. “They still fear the police.”
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights said it asked the federal Department of Justice for help looking into GRPD before, after locals spoke out at public hearings in in 2019. Since the death of Patrick Lyoya last week, MDCR said it submitted another request for assistance to conduct a full, formal investigation into systemic bias at GRPD.
The MDCR says it is also asking help from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will meet May 23, though a location has not yet been set. The shooting of Lyoya will be discussed.