GRAND RAPIDS — The family of Patrick Lyoya, the Congolese refugee who was shot by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop earlier this month, called for the officer to be identified, fired and arrested.
The video of the shooting “was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Thomas Lyoya, Patrick’s younger brother, during a Thursday news conference.
Video footage released Wednesday depicts a white Grand Rapids police officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, 26, on April 4. State officials have promised a full investigation. Meanwhile, protesters rallied this week in downtown Grand Rapids, calling for justice in his death.
During a press conference Thursday, the Lyoya family and their attorneys called on authorities to release the name of the officer, fire and prosecute him for the death of Lyoya.
The officer, who has not been publicly identified, was put on administrative leave, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom previously said.
“I want to know the person who killed my son,” said Patrick Lyoya’s father, Peter, who also called for an arrest and conviction. “I have the right.”
WHO WAS PATRICK LYOYA? He escaped violence and persecution in Congo only to die in Michigan
The Lyoyas are refugees who fled Congo to escape violence in 2014. Patrick Lyoya’s mom, Dorcas, said she thought the U.S. would be safe.
“He is my firstborn,” she said. “I am really deeply hurt and wounded. I don’t know what to do, I cannot stop myself from crying. All the mothers here, you know the pain we go through to give birth to a child… I was thinking it was my son who would bury me, but I am the one burying my son.”
Patrick Lyoya’s parents spoke through a translator, Israel Siku, who at one point was himself overcome with emotion.
At the news conference Thursday, attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, compared the treatment of Black people in the U.S. by police to what Russian soldiers are doing in Ukraine. The national civil rights attorney has previously represented the families of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020, and Breonna Taylor, killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March 2020.
“We are condemning Russian soldiers for shooting civilians in Ukraine in the back of the head,” Crump said. “Why aren’t we condemning police officers here in the United States of America shooting Black civilians in the back of the head? It’s a simple question. If it’s wrong in Ukraine … it’s wrong in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Crump thanked the Grand Rapids city manager and police chief for releasing the video, because “truth is the foundation for us to get justice.” He also demanded authorities release the name of the officer who shot Lyoya, fire the officer and prosecute him.
In the video, Lyoya and a passenger were pulled over by the unnamed officer for a traffic stop. Lyoya appeared not to comply with the officer’s requests to stay in the car and to provide his driver’s license. He ran around the car, the officer tackled him and they appeared to struggle over the officer’s stun gun for about 90 seconds, Police Chief Eric Winstrom said.
The Taser was deployed twice, but never made contact.
Then, with the police officer on top and Patrick facedown on the ground, the officer shot him in the head.
“When you think about all the things (the officer) could have done to avoid shooting Patrick in the back of the head,” Crump said. “This officer failed to follow the basic training when he engages Patrick, he goes and puts hands on him. And when Patrick goes to walk away, he could have just stepped back and called for backup… All he had to do was to call for backup and wait, and this matter could have ended so differently.”
Crump said the police department’s model of Taser only has two deployments in it before the cartridge needs to be replaced. Therefore, Crump said, the Taser was “rendered ineffective” when the officer fired his gun and there was “no reason” for the officer to be scared.
The police department uses the Taser 7 model, according to spokesperson Jennifer Kalczuk. She confirmed the Taser only has two cartridges, but said it can still produce an electrical discharge across the leads in the front of the device.
Ven Johnson, another attorney for the family, said Thursday that the officer couldn’t have feared for his life because he was on top of Lyoya.
“You cannot shoot and kill an unarmed man because he resisted,” Johnson said at the news conference. “… No weapon was ever being used against the officer.”
The footage is a compilation of videos from a cellphone, a home security camera, a dashboard camera and the officer’s body camera, which was deactivated during the struggle.
Johnson said the family intends to file a federal lawsuit over the killing.
“Patrick had no weapon, no gun, no knife, nothing,” Johnson said. “Patrick never threatened him.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, said Wednesday she “will never stop fighting to make Michigan a more equitable and just state.”
She and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist had spoken with Lyoya’s family, she said in a statement.
“He had his whole life ahead of him. Patrick was a son, a dad of two young daughters, and an older brother to his five siblings,” she said.