Ex-Grand Rapids cop ordered to stand trial in Lyoya murder

Kayla Ruble
The Detroit News

Former Grand Rapids Police Department officer Christopher Schurr is set to stand trial on second-degree murder in the killing of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya after a judge decided Friday to rejected the request by the officer's attorneys to dismiss the case.

Schurr’s legal team had sought to dismiss the case following a ruling late last year by Grand Rapids district court Judge Nicholas Ayoub, who found the prosecutors had sufficient evidence to proceed with the case and bound the murder charge over for trial. Kent County Circuit Court Judge Christina Elmore agreed with Ayoub on Friday.

Lyoya, a Black man who moved to the United States with his family as Congolese refugees, was killed on the morning of April 4 after getting pulled over by then-police officer Schurr while driving through a Grand Rapids neighborhood when he was pulled over by then-police officer Schurr.

Video of the traffic stop shows Lyoya slowly running away from the vehicle after being asked for his driver's license. A brief chase ensued, the video from the Grand Rapids Police Department showed. After a brief tussle in a nearby front yard, cellphone video from the incident shows Schurr, 31, shooting Lyoya, 26, in the back of the head. 

Former police officer Christopher Schurr listens to defense attorney Matt Borgula make closing arguments in court in Grand Rapids, MI on October 28, 2022 for a preliminary hearing in the death of Patrick Lyoya. Schurr is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Lyoya in April 2022.

In June 2022, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Offce charged Schurr with second-degree murder for Lyoya’s slaying. Schurr was subsequently fired by the Grand Rapids Police Department after the shooting and has been free on a $100,000 bond. The shooting has caught national attention, highlighting a history of tense relations between the City of Grand Rapids, its police department and the city’s Black residents.

When Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker announced the murder charge last year, he 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."

In court, Becker has said Schurr’s use of deadly force of against Lyoya was not immediately necessary, pointing to the fact that when Schurr fired the fatal shot, Lyoya was lying face down on the ground in the April 4 traffic stop that turned into a chase and physical confrontation.

“This is a direct shot to the head," Becker said. "It’s a contact wound to the back of the head.”

The defense has argued that Schurr was following department protocols. During preliminary exam hearings in October, Schurr’s lawyers argued that the former officer had acted in accordance with Grand Rapids Police Department protocols and followed the department's use of force guidelines.

In October, defense attorney Matt Borgula said "the officer acted reasonably under the totality of the circumstances."

Lyoya’s family has also filed a federal lawsuit against officer Schurr and the City of Grand Rapids. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Western Michigan, accuses the city and Schurr of multiple civil rights violations, as well as gross negligence and willful misconduct. 

Earlier this week, in the wake video released showing the police killing of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop in Tennessee, the NAACP Greater Grand Rapids Branch drew connections to the Schurr case.

"We look forward to the former Officer being judged by a jury of his peers for his role in Patrick’s tragic and unjustified death," the civil rights organization said in the statement.

"In this very moment, as national attention is once again focused on police accountability, we are looking for prosecutors around the country — especially Christopher Becker, to fight these cases diligently and stand up for justice." 

Schurr’s trial is scheduled to begin in March.