Police Officer Charged with Second-Degree Murder

Officer Christopher Schurr, with the Grand Rapids Police Department, was charged with second degree murder
Christopher Schurr – Emily Rose Bennett/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File

White Officer Shoots Black Man in the Back of His Head

(MI) – On April 4, Officer Christopher Schurr, with the Grand Rapids Police Department, spotted a vehicle that matched the description of a stolen vehicle. He ran the license plates and saw that it came back to a different vehicle type. Suspecting it was stolen, Officer Schurr pulled the car over for an “unregistered license plate.”

The driver, Patrick Lyoya, got out and the two spoke. Lyoya wanted to know why he was being stopped. Officer Schurr attempted to handcuff Lyoya and Lyoya resisted. Patrick Lyoya attempted to run away. Officer Schurr tried to wrestle Lyoya under control several times. The struggles went on for almost three minutes. Twice Officer Schurr attempted to use his Taser on Lyoya, but missed.

Lyoya was able to pull the Taser away from Officer Schurr while Schurr was on Lyoya’s back. Lyoya was then able to push up on his hands and knees. Schurr, while still on Lyoya’s back, shot Lyoya in the back of his head. The area, which has had a significant amount of racial tensions, exploded in protests.

On June 9, Officer Christopher Schurr was charged with second-degree murder.

About Christopher Schurr and Patrick Lyoya

Christopher Schurr was hired as a police officer by the Grand Rapid Police Department in 2015. He is 31-years old and has no criminal history and according to his attorneys, he was a “decorated member of law enforcement.”

Patrick Lyoya was a “26-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Lyoya had a history of substance abuse. He had three warrants out for his arrest, though it is unknown if Schurr knew about the warrants. Lyoya had a blood-alcohol concentration three times the legal limit. Patrick Lyoya was also driving on a revoked license (though Officer Schurr probably did not yet know that). At this point, Lyoya was unarmed.

But it’s not that easy. It’s about what happened during the incident, not their personal history.

Traffic Stop to Fatal Shooting

This was a traffic stop, but if Schurr is claiming he believed it was a stolen vehicle, he should have called for backup. He didn’t.

There was no proof that a crime had occurred. It could have been something as simple as mixing up which license plates went on which car. Once contact was made, Officer Schurr would have realized Lyoya was drunk. He had a valid reason for a driving while under the influence (DUI) arrest. He goes to cuff Lyoya and Lyoya begins walking away. Officer Schurr finally calls for backup.

The struggles begin. Several times Officer Schurr tries to overpower Lyoya and each time Lyoya gets away. At no point do I see Lyoya actually attack Officer Schurr. All his struggles appear to be attempts to escape, not fight back. Officer Schurr is aware that he is unable to control Lyoya, but instead of stepping back and using his Taser from a distance, he attempts to use it during a struggle, twice. The second time Lyoya manages to pull the Taser away even though he is pinned down by Schurr. Officer Schurr kills Lyoya claiming he feared for his life.

Missing Video/Audio

There is a short period when Officer Schurr’s body camera appears to be turned off. So far, we have not been told if this was a technical issue or if Schurr turned it off. If it was Schurr, there’s a huge concern as to why he did it. Did he threaten to kill Lyoya and not want the threat recorded? I doubt we’ll ever know what may have gotten said during that missing timeframe, and that could be the result Schurr wanted.

Presumption of Innocence.

Officer Chirstopher Schurr’s attorneys want you to remember there is a presumption of innocence and not make up your mind about Schurr. That’s true. That’s the way our system is supposed to be though we know it’s imperfect. But at the same time, Schurr’s attorneys will manage to mention the arrest warrants that were out on Patrick Lyoya. Those were warrants, not convictions. Doesn’t Lyoya deserve the same presumption of innocence also?

The warrants were domestic violence, failure to appear or pay fine, and property damage (running from a car accident). None of those have death listed as the penalty for conviction. Even DUI does not result in a death penalty. As for his past criminal history, there’s a reason why it can’t be brought up during a trial. Just because a person was guilty of a past crime does not mean they are guilty of the current crime they are being tried for.

Excessive Force or Self-Defense?

The criminal investigation into the shooting was to determine if it was excessive force or self-defense. Naturally, the attorneys for Christopher Schurr claim it was a justified use of force. The family of Patrick Lyoya claims it was an execution. The investigative report by the state police determined that the shooting was not justified.

I see a lot of training issues in this stop. Officer Schurr may have feared for his life, but the reason Lyoya had a weapon was because of Schurr’s poor decisions. What I can’t get past is the decision to point the gun at the back of Lyoya’s head. Why not the shoulder on the side where Lyoya was holding the Taser? The arm would have gone limp and useless. Why not in the side? Not as optimal as the shoulder, but still a devastating injury. Why did he immediately go for the back of the head?

Christopher Schurr was given a $100,000 bond with restrictions. He was released from jail after posting bond. The Grand Rapid Police Department is in the process of terminating him.

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