Michigan agency requests federal bias probe into Grand Rapids Police Department

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has requested an investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department's practices, Grand Rapids U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge confirmed Tuesday.

Birge, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said in a statement that the department asked his department to open a "pattern or practice investigation" about possible discrimination by the police department. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights requested the probe before the April 4 shooting death of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya by an unnamed Grand Rapids police officer. 

"Pursuant to standard practice, the department considers all information provided by state agencies, including the MDCR, as well as any additional information, in determining whether to open a pattern or practice investigation," Birge said.

The Grand Rapids Police Department is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for a "pattern or practice investigation" about possible discrimination, Grand Rapids U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge confirmed Tuesday.

The development came on the same day that attorneys for Patrick Lyoya's family said the 26-year-old's death appeared to be a “classic” case of Lyoya being targeted for “driving while Black." Lyoya was profiled by the Grand Rapids police officer who ultimately shot him in the back of the head, family attorney Benjamin Crump said at a Detroit news conference to discuss the results of an independent autopsy of Lyoya. 

Crump said the U.S. Department of Justice reached out to say it would be reviewing Lyoya's death.  

Grand Rapids Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk said it would be "inappropriate" to talk about the news conference or "any aspect of the case while the official Michigan State Police investigation is still underway."

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights met with Grand Rapids residents in 2019 during two "listening sessions," department spokeswoman Vicki Levengood said Tuesday. There are 29 active complaints of discrimination against the Grand Rapids Police Department being investigated by the state department, Levengood said.

The complaints led the MDCR "to this concern about a possible pattern and practice of discrimination by the Grand Rapids Police Department," said Levengood.

"We met this week with Attorney General Nessel and members of her team to discuss a potential collaborative investigation into whether the Grand Rapids Police Department had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination and disparate treatment.

The Attorney General's office "is meeting with the Department of Civil Rights since their outreach last week regarding their ongoing interviews investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department," Nessel spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said. 

"The Attorney General is committed to putting the full resources of her office behind this effort," Mukomel continued.

The development came on the same day that Crump said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had promised Lyoya's family "the most thorough investigation possible" on Monday.

Crump, who noted he was not at the meeting between Whitmer and Lyoya's family, said Whitmer would do everything in her power to make sure the investigation was thorough.

Lyoya was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4 after a traffic stop. The officer, who has not been named by the Grand Rapids Police Department, asked for Lyoya's driver's license, and Lyoya ended up fleeing the car and a foot chase ensued. In video footage, the officer and Lyoya can be seen struggling over the officer's stun gun.

The officer ended up shooting Lyoya in the back of the head with his gun. An independent autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz and shared Tuesday confirmed that was the way Lyoya died.

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