Family of Patrick Lyoya, man killed by Grand Rapids police officer, calls for justice

Grand Rapids — Peter and Dorcas Lyoya said they left the Congo to escape violence. They never expected to find it in America.

And the couple said they were even more shocked that the person involved in the physical force would be a police officer.

Their eldest son, Patrick, 26, was shot by an unidentified Grand Rapids Police Department officer after a traffic stop earlier this month. The two men struggled over the officer’s stun gun before Lyoya was shot in the back of the head while face down on the ground.

Dorothy Sewe, left, comforts Dorcas Lyoya -- the mother of Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year old Black man who was shot and killed by a White Grand Rapids police officer following a traffic stop -- during a Thursday, April 14, 2022 press conference held to respond to the videos of her son's killing in Grand Rapids. Videos of the incident were released to the public on Wednesday.

“I thought I came to a safe place,” Dorcas Lyoya said through an interpreter during a Thursday press conference.

The Lyoyas and their six children left the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014 to flee civil unrest spurred by fighting among several rebel groups.

Now the family wants to see the face of the person who killed Patrick. And they want him charged with murder.

During the press conference at Renaissance Church of God in Christ, Peter Lyoya demanded that authorities reveal the name of the officer who shot his son. He said his children keep asking for the shooter’s identity.

“I would love to know the person who killed my son,” he said through an interpreter.

One of those children also spoke during the event. Thomas Lyoya, who said he was heartbroken, described what it was like to watch the video of his brother’s death.

“It was the most horrifying thing I’ve seen in my life,” he said.

His parents also talked about the loss in personal terms.

Dorcas Lyoya said she couldn’t stop crying.

“I thought my son would bury me,” she said. “What is astonishing is I bury my son.”

Patrick Lyoya's parents, Dorca, center, and Peter Lyoya speak to the media Thursday during a press conference at a Grand Rapids church.

Peter Lyoya said he always thought Patrick, as the eldest son, would eventually replace him as the head of the family.

Instead, he said, his son was killed “like an animal.”

“My heart is broken,” he said. “My life was Patrick.”

When authorities allowed the family to see a partial video before it was shown to the media Wednesday, they asked the family not to discuss what they saw, said Peter Lyoya.

He said he was offended by the request.

“You killed him with bullets, and you’re telling me to keep secret,” he said.

'Justice for Patrick'

Ben Crump, who leads the legal team for George Floyd's family, and Detroit-based Ven Johnson, who most recently represented student victims of the Oxford High School shooting, were among the family's attorneys speaking at the press conference. 

Crump started by thanking Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, who pushed for police to release the videos, and welcomed Breonna Taylor's mother, Temika Palmer, to sit at the front table with Lyoya's family. He added that Taylor was born in Grand Rapids and "it was no question they had to stand with the Lyoya family in their hometown," Crump said.

Tamika Palmer, center, mother of another police shooting victim, Brianna Taylor, joined the Lyoya family in support at the press conference.

Palmer, who is still fighting her case after former Louisville police officer Myles Cosgrove sued to get his job back, apologized to the Lyoya family.

"I'm sorry we didn't do enough to ensure Patrick was safe...," she said. "The only thing that needs to happen is that this officer needs to be arrested, convicted and prosecuted."

They addressed the nine videos released by Grand Rapids police Wednesday, about 20 minutes of footage, saying, "Nothing Patrick did justified (the officer) reaching for his revolver, putting it into the back of Patrick's head and pulling the trigger."

They pointed to the last 15 seconds of the video footage saying, "Watch his actions."

"This is is an execution, there's no way to spin it," said Crump, who then chanted, "Justice for Patrick."

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker previously requested that police not release any evidence until the investigation is complete. 

Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Winstrom said he released the videos in an effort to be as transparent as possible but said he lacked other information because Michigan State Police are investigating the incident. He declined to speculate and said the investigation needs to be completed before all facts are known.

The News left a message with Grand Rapids police Thursday.

Detroit Attorney Ben Crump and his legal team spoke to the media and answered questions at Renaissance Church of God in Christ, Family Life Center in Grand Rapids.

Crump said the family is seeking an independent autopsy and once that has concluded, they will say their final goodbyes and bury their son. He said they're also speaking with state investigators and the U.S. Department of Justice about the incident. The Kent County Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy, but Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle said the report will not be released until state police conclude their investigation.

"Based on what we see in that video, we believe that this officer should be terminated for engaging an unnecessary, excessive use of deadly force. His mother and father, and their family are asking that the state attorney charge him to the full extent of the law for breaking their hearts and making his young children, orphans, fatherless. 

"Equal justice requires it," Crump repeated. "We look forward to working with the leaders of this city to get us through this crisis. We pray that the mayor, city council, city manager and the police chief will all have responsible leadership."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday that she believed Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker would "perform a thorough analysis of the facts of law that apply in this case." She said her office would be available to provide assistance if Becker requested it.

Attorney Johnson said the situation could only be described as "an execution-style homicide."

"How could anyone be in reasonable fear of their own life when they're on top of somebody, when you have both knees on the back of Patrick's knees? What you saw was Patrick defending himself," Johnson said. "I've already watched the video 400 times, I'll watch it 400 more and we've hired experts that will tell you that you can't be in immediate fear when you're on top and there's no weapon."

Other attorneys working with the family include Ayana Hatchett; Robyn McCoy, vice president of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan; her associate, Ed Taylor; and Stephen Grimm.

While Patrick Lyoya lived in Grand Rapids, his parents live in Lansing.

Israel Siku, the family's spokesman, was the interpreter at the press conference. He aids a large Congolese community in west Michigan.

Detroit Attorney Ven Johnson comforts the Lyoya family's translator at a press conference Thursday.

"When I came 20 years ago, there were only maybe 10 or 15 families, but our community has now grown to more than 700 to 800," Siku told The Detroit News.

Police force's history

The officer told Lyoya he was pulled over because his license plate didn't match his vehicle, video showed. Lyoya didn't comply with the officer's request to stay in his vehicle, or for his driver's license, which resulted in a struggle between him and the officer.

Lyoya eventually ran to a nearby yard and the officer tried but failed to restrain him. The officer fired his stun gun twice amid a struggle over the weapon in the moments before Lyoya was killed, but electrodes hit the ground both times, police said. The officer then withdrew his handgun and shot Lyoya in the back of the head.

The confrontation occurred at 8:11 a.m. on April 4 near the intersection of Griggs and Nelson on the southeast side of the city.

► 5 key details: Why Grand Rapids cop's body camera deactivated before fatal shooting and more we learned

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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.

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.

Lyoya's family has launched a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $51,000 over the last week to pay for a funeral. 

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