Crump accuses officer of racial profiling Lyoya; results of autopsy released
Detroit — Attorneys for Patrick Lyoya's family said Tuesday the 26-year-old's death appears to be a “classic” case of Lyoya being targeted for a “driving-while-Black" traffic stop.
Ben Crump, one of the family's attorneys, argued Tuesday during a press conference focused on the release of an independent autopsy that Lyoya was profiled by the Grand Rapids police officer who ultimately shot him in the back of the head. He cited video released last week from the officer's bodycam showing the officer making a U-turn to pursue Lyoya's car. Michigan State Police are investigating the case.
Lyoya died of a gunshot wound to the back of head, forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz found in the autopsy performed at the request of the Lyoya family's lawyers.
“This is evidence of this tragic killing, which his family believes was an execution,” Crump said.
The accusation of racial profiling came on the same day that Grand Rapids U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge confirmed the Michigan Department of Civil Rights requested the opening of a "pattern or practice investigation" about possible discrimination by the Grand Rapids Police Department. The probe is about incidents that happened before the April 4 death of Lyoya.
Crump said he believes racial profiling was involved in the stop because video viewed by him and Metro Detroit lawyer Ven Johnson showed the officer facing Lyoya's car and doing a U-turn from about a block and a half away to pursue the car.
In video released last week by the Grand Rapids Police Department, an unidentified police officer asked Lyoya if he had a driver's license and spoke English. When Lyoya indicated he spoke English and wanted to know why the license needed to be produced, the officer said the car wasn't registered.
Lyoya eventually fled the car, a chase on foot ensued and the officer and Lyoya ended up struggling over the officer’s stun gun, according to video footage, before the officer shot Lyoya in the back of the head while Lyoya was face down on the ground.
"How did he know that Patrick's tag registration wasn't valid when he's coming from the opposite direction?" Crump asked. "These are things that attorney Johnson and I want to investigate intensely because it goes to the mentality of that police officer, and it goes to the culture that was manifest in that police department."
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."
Experts discuss profiling charge
The phrase “driving while Black,” a play on the phrase “driving while intoxicated,” has come into common use when discussing racial profiling of drivers. Several Black celebrities have used the phrase themselves to discuss their fears of being pulled over, including Neil deGrasse Tyson in his memoir “The Sky is Not the Limit.”
The phrase can be very emotionally charged for people, said Daniel Kennedy, a criminologist and adjunct professor at Oakland University. Pulling over Lyoya was a "pretext stop," a legal practice in which an officer stops someone for a technical reason when the officer is interested in investigating further.
Jennifer Cobbina-Dungy, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said she considered the stop to be a case of driving while Black.
Cobbina-Dungy noted that White drivers are more likely to be stopped for "egregious" reasons, such as running a red light or being under the influence. Black drivers are more likely to be subject to investigatory stops, she said, which can often be punitive and invasive.
"This contributes to why White people tend to have more favorable views of the police," Cobbina-Dungy said. "White people are stopped for a reason, and even if they're upset, they know there was a good reason. Black people are much more likely to be stopped for investigatory reasons, which increases distrust in the police because they cannot move freely without the risk of being stopped and treated with contempt."
As was the case with Lyoya, she said, those low-level infraction stops can turn deadly.
"We've seen this too many times with too many other people," she said.
Both Crump and Johnson said while Lyoya was "resisting" police, he was not fighting the Grand Rapids officer. Lyoya did not throw punches, Johnson said, and was not warned by officer that he was going to be Tased.
Johnson said he and Crump did not have all videos of the incident yet, but they wanted to examine the body camera itself, which was off during the shooting. For the camera to be turned off, it needed to be pressed for three seconds, although it is not clear how it was pressed down.
What autopsy showed
Lyoya had no other injuries on his body, said Spitz, who added Lyoya likely died immediately from "a powerful bullet," but that he was aware the gun was to the back of his head.
Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle has not released the results of his autopsy, and spokeswoman Lori Latham said he is awaiting toxicology results that could take 60 days. Cohle has requested the results be expedited, Latham said, but it is unclear when they will become available.
Spitz did not do a toxicology exam, said Johnson, but Spitz later confirmed that he had taken a blood sample to send to a lab in Pennsylvania. The attorneys sought an independent exam in addition to the medical examiner's autopsy because they didn’t know anything for sure other than Lyoya died of a gunshot wound, Johnson said.
Spitz has worked on many prominent cases, according to a release from Crump, including investigations into the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Michael Jackson. He has an office in St. Clair Shores and worked on the 1987 crash of Northwest Flight 255 that killed almost all of its passengers except for a 4-year-old girl.
Crump declined to say what specific criminal charges he wanted to see filed against the officer at this time, but reiterated that Lyoya's family felt the shooting was murder.
"Our team of lawyers will explore every possible legal remedy to give this family justice," Crump said.
Crump noted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had met with Lyoya's family on Monday and promised "the most thorough investigation possible."
Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker said his office plans to review Lyoya's death once State Police conclude their investigation. Becker said he doesn't expect to ask the state attorney general for help.