Grand Rapids fires police officer Schurr in wake of Lyoya murder charge

Sarah Rahal Kayla Ruble
The Detroit News

The city of Grand Rapids has fired police officer Christopher Schurr, who fatally shot Patrick Lyoya in an April 4 traffic stop that garnered national headlines and resulted in a second-degree murder charge against Schurr.

Schurr decided to waive his right to a discharge hearing, Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington said in a Wednesday statement.

Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr stops to talk with a resident, Wednesday, August 12, 2015, in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids police have identified Schurr as the officer who killed Patrick Lyoya on April 4.

"...Therefore, I have decided to terminate Mr. Schurr’s employment with the Grand Rapids Police Department effective June 10, 2022," Washington said. "Due to the on-going criminal matter and the potential for civil litigation, I will not be providing any additional comment concerning Mr. Schurr at this time.

Schurr's termination was effective Friday, when Schurr was arraigned on the second-degree murder charge. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $100,000 bond.

As a condition of pretrial release, Schurr cannot purchase or possess any firearms or dangerous weapons, must remain under the supervision of court services, cannot drink liquor or use any illegal drugs and cannot engage in "any assaultive, threatening or intimidating behavior."

Lyoya family attorney Ven Johnson questioned why the city of Grand Rapids nearly two and a half months to reach the decision, arguing city officials had sufficient evidence to fire the officer themselves well before Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker last Thursday announced the criminal charge.

“What took them so long?” Johnson told The Detroit News in a Wednesday phone interview.  

Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, who represents the city of Grand Rapids and had called for Schurr's firing, welcomed the development. 

“We were on the right side of history when we said this cannot be tolerated,” Womack  wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “Saying ‘I feared for my life’ is no longer by (itself) a great reason to kill unarmed black men.”

In the Facebook post, Womack said it now seemed “inevitable” that the de-escalation training he has been requesting for years would actually happen. 

“To everyone who stood up for a change on the way African American neighborhoods are policed, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he wrote.

In announcing the murder charge, Becker said he believed there was "a sufficient basis" to proceed with the charge, which is a felony that is punishable by up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

"The elements of second-degree murder is relatively simple," Becker said. "First, there was a death, a death done by the defendant. ... The death was not justified or excused, for example, by self-defense."

The charge resulted in Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom recommending the same day that Schurr be suspended and fired. Winstrom said at Thursday press conference with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss that he based the discipline on the video of the death, an investigation by the department's internal affairs division and the prosecutor’s decision to charge the officer. The prosecutor’s decision to charge the officer after reviewing the report suggested the officer performed poorly, he said.

“I respect the prosecutor’s decision,” said Winstrom, who stopped short of saying whether he supported Becker's decision. "I think he’s a fair man.”

“The City of Grand Rapids, which of course includes its police department, has the responsibility to hire and fire all by themselves,” Lyoya attorney Johnson said Wednesday, “They waited for the prosecutor to make important decisions for the City of Grand Rapids.”

“Leaving him on the force and paying him money. ... What message does that send to officers?”

Becker said he received the full police report from state police investigators eight days prior to announcing the charges and had consulted with legal experts before making a decision. 

The Grand Rapids police officer was justified when he fatally shot Lyoya because "he did everything he was required to do per department policy." attorney Matt Borgula said Friday.

Under the Grand Rapids department's use of force policy, officers can use deadly force "only to defend themselves, another officer, or another person against a reasonable threat of death or serious bodily injury ..."

"Before lethal force was used, he took several steps, to the point where he was exhausted and felt that he was in danger of lethal harm himself before he decided to pull his weapon," Borgula said. "I think that's going to be the defense, and I think we're going to be victorious."

MORE: How defense team plans to justify Schurr's shooting of Lyoya

Video from the April traffic stop shows Schurr, 31, shooting Lyoya, 26, in the back of the head. 

In the video, Schurr asks Lyoya, a Black immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 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, after which the officer chased Lyoya, according to video from the Grand Rapids Police Department. The two struggled over the officer's stun gun before he shot Lyoya in the back of the head while Lyoya was face down on the ground.

Legal experts told The News that Schurr must show there was an imminent threat to his life to justify using deadly force.

A probable cause conference in the case was set for 9:30 a.m. June 21. A preliminary examination also is scheduled for June 28 at 1:30 p.m.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_