Grand Rapids police shoot Lyoya

by morgan miles, staff writer

Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black Congolese refugee, was killed in Grand Rapids, Mich. He was shot in the back of the head by a White police officer earlier this month.

Lyoya’s death sparked protests in Grand Rapids when police released videos of the incident that were taken by the officer’s body camera, car dashboard, a home surveillance camera and a passerby’s cell phone.

The April 4 videos show that Lyoya was pulled over while driving in a residential area. He stepped out of the car and quickly became engaged in a physical struggle with the officer. Lyoya was tackled by the officer, who attempted to tase him. He took the taser from the officer, and the officer shot him. 

Grand Rapids residents have a long history of strained relationships with law enforcement. The city population is about 200,000 people, and 18% of its population is Black. Protests for Lyoya reflected tensions with police in the community.

Prior protests have been spurred by 11-year-old Honestie Hodges being handcuffed at gunpoint, and Grand Rapids officers holding five teenagers at gunpoint. Activists in the city say that Lyoya’s case is another recent example of the police violence young Black men experience.

The protests in Grand Rapids follow a year of civil unrest across the nation when, in 2020, a series of police brutality incidents, most notably George Floyd, sparked protests across the country.

The officer, whose identity has been obscured by officials, had his powers suspended and is currently on paid leave. An investigation into the officer’s actions is ongoing. 

An autopsy performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz revealed that a bullet from the police officer’s gun went through Lyoya’s skull. Spitz has been involved in investigating high-profile cases, including the assassinations of former president John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“There’s no question what killed this young man,” Spitz stated, referring to the absence of scratches and bruises on Lyoya’s body. 

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney and lawyer for the Lyoya family, read the autopsy. Crump explained that fragmentation at Lyoya’s entrance wound suggests the gun was held to Lyoya’s head. 

“He is in complete control of Patrick at that point,” Crump said, speaking on the position the officer took atop Lyoya in his last moments. Crump and his team will investigate if the murder was a result of racial profiling, or what Crump calls a “driving while Black” case.

Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle conducted an autopsy of Lyoya two weeks ago, but toxicology and tissue test results are pending. Cohle will not release the report publicly until the Michigan State Police finish investigating the shooting.

According to Ven Johnson, another lawyer for the Lyoya family, the family demands dismissal and a criminal charge against the officer. They seek “justice through the court system,” Johnson said.

Last week, the Michigan State Police stated that they will remain committed to conducting a thorough investigation. When the investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the Kent County Prosecutor.

A funeral was held for Lyoya on Friday.