Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker announced his decision Thursday after he spent six weeks reviewing forensic and toxicology reports, as well as the results of an official investigation conducted by Michigan State Police.
“This is not a quick decision I took lightly,” Becker said when announcing the charge. “I hope that it sends the message that we take these cases seriously.”
“Everyone thinks prosecutors are an arm or branch for police and we are not … Our duty is pubic safety, we work with them but we don’t work for them.”
Becker said charges have already been filed against Officer Christopher Schurr. The officer has turned himself in and will be arraigned on Friday, he added.
A second-degree murder charge is a felony offense in Michigan punishable up to life in prison.
The prosecution stems from an April 4 encounter where Schurr pulled over Lyoya, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014.
Schurr told Lyoya, 26, that he had stopped him because the license plate didn’t match the vehicle, according to police video released shortly after Lyoya’s death.
Four videos, including from a dashcam and a cellphone, showed Lyoya and Schurr struggling on the ground, with Lyoya apparently trying to take control of the officer’s stun gun. The officer ended up restraining Lyoya with his knee to his back and ultimately shot him as he was facedown on the ground.
His death sparked a string of protests in Grand Rapids, with hundreds demanding justice and transparency from city and police officials.
Lyoya’s family is represented by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who called for the immediate firing and criminal prosecution of Schurr.
Crump lauded Becker’s decision.
“We are encouraged by attorney Christopher Becker’s decision to charge Christopher Schurr for the brutal killing of Patrick Lyoya, which we all witnessed when the video footage was released to the public,” Crump said in a statement shortly after the announcement.
“While the road to justice for Patrick and his family has just begun, this decision is a crucial step in the right direction. Officer Schurr must be held accountable for his decision to pursue an unarmed Patrick, ultimately shooting him in the back of the head and killing him — for nothing more than a traffic stop.”
Other state leaders, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also supported the prosecutor’s call.
“At the Department of Attorney General, we understand the exceptional resources needed to evaluate police-involved shooting deaths and I commend Prosecutor Becker, his team and the Michigan State Police for the exhaustive review conducted these last two months. We must now respect the judicial process and allow the facts of the case to be presented in court.”
Becker, who initially got the report from Michigan State Police on April 28, at the time said he was waiting on additional information, including the taser report. Becker said he received everything earlier this month and he was able to make his decision within eight days.
The Kent County medical examiner confirmed in an official autopsy report last month that Lyoya was shot in the back of the head. The report matched an earlier independent autopsy commissioned by Lyoya’s family.
The autopsy also revealed that Lyoya’s blood-alcohol level was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit for driving, when his car was stopped, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Becker said he will be trying the case himself and that he is in touch with the Lyoya family.
“The loss of a child causes unimaginable pain and stress. I deeply appreciate their patience,” he said. “I stand by my decisions in the past, and I stand by this one.”