Grand Rapids simmers as police ready release of fatal shooting video

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids police are set to release videos Wednesday in the fatal shooting last week of Patrick Lyoya by a city officer that has ignited protests and spurred calls for the release of the footage of the encounter.

Police chief Eric Winstrom said the release of the videos taken from the body-worn camera, in-car camera, a cell phone and a home surveillance system would follow a press conference "to provide additional context to the footage, provide an update and explain next steps in the investigative process."

The announcement came as protesters gathered outside a City Commission meeting Tuesday.

Jakari Olatunde speaks during the protest Tuesday.

Winstrom said Tuesday the footage would stream on the city’s YouTube channel with age restrictions due to the graphic content and strong language. It was also slated to be available through a public link, unedited, but with some images  "redacted/blurred to ensure privacy," Winstrom said, adding the audio has not been edited.

"The video release tomorrow will ensure that the integrity of the investigation, in the interests of justice and accountability, will be protected," the chief's statement said. 

Protesters in Grand Rapids hold a defund police sign during a march in Patrick Lyoya's fatal shooting by police last week.

"I thank the public for their patience and understanding while waiting for the release of the video. I intend to continue to be as forthright and transparent during the ongoing investigation which is under the control of the Michigan State Police."

The chief added that the Kent County prosecutor, who had requested that police not release any evidence until the investigation is complete, was aware of the release.

Patrick Lyoya

The city has faced criticism and outcry since Lyoya, 26, an immigrant from Democratic Republic of Congo, was fatally shot on April 4.

Police said he fought during a traffic stop related to a license plate issue, officials said.

The driver exited the vehicle and then fled the scene on foot while a passenger remained inside, the city said.

"Following a brief foot pursuit, a physical altercation between the officer and the driver took place that lasted for several minutes," officials said. The officer fired his weapon, according to the statement.

The officer, who joined the department in 2015, has been placed on administrative leave as Michigan State Police investigate the incident, the city said.

Lyoya's family and supporters, including Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, have denounced the shooting and called for charges against the officer involved.

Noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump has joined the cause and spoken out.

"We will NOT let Patrick Lyoya’s death be swept under the rug!" he said in a Facebook post Tuesday. "The 26-yr-old was UNJUSTLY killed by Grand Rapids (MI) police during a traffic stop, leaving yet another broken-hearted Black family to grieve the loss of their loved one! Demand transparency!"

Another demonstration streamed through the city Tuesday ahead of a City Commission meeting, with participants carrying signs such as "Justice 4 Patrick" and "Barricades can't stop anger!" WZZM reported.

During the meeting, city officials addressed the shooting but said little.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss called for a moment of silence, and City Manager Mark Washington mentioned the police chief's announcement about the video release. 

Several people who spoke during public comments spoke out on the shooting and demanded action.

One man called the situation "inexcusable." A woman told the commission: "You share the blame. The blood is on your hands, too."

Another said: "No police officer is above the law.... Patrick's life was lost and it didn't need to happen."

ACLU senior staff attorney Miriam Aukerman attends the City Commission meeting Tuesday, where the issue of the police shooting was addressed by the commission.

In a statement Tuesday, Loren Khogali, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said: “Patrick Lyoya should be alive today. As the Lyoya family, community leaders, and activists demand answers, we join their call for the Grand Rapids Police Department to be accountable and release all video related to the killing of Mr. Lyoya.

"This is tragically another police encounter that resulted in the death of a Black man. As we wait for answers, we must ensure that the community’s constitutional right to protest this tragedy is not met with violence, threats, or intimidation.” 

Grand Rapids police have been criticized in recent years for how officers have handled incidents with people of color, leading to multiple internal investigations launched by state police.

Protesters carry signs and chant during the march Tuesday in Grand Rapids.

The city settled a lawsuit for $190,000 with a former Marine who was arrested by police in November 2018 and was wrongfully turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for deportation.

The year prior, an 11-year-old girl was wrongfully handcuffed at gunpoint after officers entered the wrong home. Last year, footage showed an officer punching a 25-year-old man after a traffic stop.