The Grand Rapids, Mich., police officer who shot a Congolese refugee, Patrick Lyoya, during a traffic stop in April was charged Thursday with one count of second-degree murder.
Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker announced the charge at a press conference, saying the officer, Christopher Schurr, had turned himself in.
Becker said the felony offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole, but noted that a jury would also receive instructions that could result in lesser offenses in the case, should Schurr be found guilty, including manslaughter.
“As it stands now, this is merely an allegation, and as with any defendant, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond the reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Becker stressed.
On Friday, Schurr appeared in court virtually from the Calhoun County Jail where he’s being held. He pleaded not guilty.
A judge set Schurr’s bond at $100,000 with several special conditions, including that he does not possess or purchase a firearm, and that he reports to court services, abstains from drug use and doesn’t engage in any aggressive behavioral acts. Bond was dependent on his turning himself in, requesting legal counsel and having no previous criminal history.
His next appearance is scheduled for June 21.
Lyoya, 26, was killed on April 4, after Schurr attempted to arrest him. A struggle over the officer’s Taser ended with him shooting Lyoya, who, at the time, was lying face down on the ground.
When asked if he thought his decision would send a message to other officers in Grand Rapids, Becker said, “I’m never big on sending messages with charges. I think most police officers realize that it could happen.
“I’m not thinking that Kent County officers or any police officers in general thought they had a license to go out and do something like this,” he added.
Patrick’s father, Peter Lyoya, as well as family attorneys Ven Johnson and civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, took part in a separate news conference Thursday.
Johnson encouraged the community to react peacefully to the decision, while Crump emphasized that Becker made the right move.
“Patrick was shot in the back of the head — executed,” said Crump, who on April 14 had called on the Michigan State Police to investigate Lyoya’s death, via video feed. “It is more than appropriate that these charges are brought against this officer who didn’t have to do this. He could have done any number of things instead of blow Patrick Lyoya’s head off.”
Schurr had initially pulled over Lyoya for what was allegedly an unregistered license plate and determined that there were three outstanding warrants for his arrest. According to CNN, Lyoya was driving with a revoked license stemming from a substance abuse conviction.
Lyoya’s death was captured by Schurr’s dashcam video, his body camera as well as on cellphone video shot by the passenger in Lyoya’s car. Initially, Lyoya appears confused as he follows Schurr’s commands.
Lyoya is seen exiting his vehicle after getting pulled over for what Crump said was a “minor traffic stop.” When the officer arrives at the vehicle, he tells Lyoya to “Get back in the car.” Instead, Lyoya closes the door and asks why he needs to get his information. Moments later, he starts to walk, then run, with Schurr in pursuit.
Footage filmed at the scene shows that after a struggle on the ground, the officer failed to handcuff Lyoya before he shot him in the back of the head.
“There is no excuse whatsoever for Patrick being shot in the back of the head,” Johnson, the family attorney, said Thursday.