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Patrick Lyoya's Family Sues Grand Rapids, Ex-Officer Who Fatally Shot Him In The Head

The African refugee was a driving-while-Black victim, the family's lawyers allege.

The family of Patrick Lyoya, an Congolese refugee fatally shot in April during a traffic stop, sued the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., and the former police officer charged with his murder.

MLive.com reports that lawyers representing the family filed a federal civil lawsuit on Wednesday (Dec. 7) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Among the allegations, it accuses the Grand Rapids Police Department of having a “custom of racial discrimination.”

On April 4, former police officer Christopher Schurr, who is white, pulled over Lyoya, 26, for a traffic stop. Lyoya fled on foot and Schurr ran after him. The officer pulled out his Taser and fired at Lyoya twice without success. Schurr caught up to Lyoya and sat on Lyoya’s back. As they scuffled, Schurr shot him in the back of the head with his gun.

Kent County, Mich., prosecutor Christopher Becker filed a single count of second-degree murder against Schurr, 31, on June 9.

RELATED: Michigan Officer Who Fatally Shot Patrick Lyoya Charged With Second-Degree Murder

The lawsuit alleges that Schurr used excessive force. According to MLive, it claims that “no reasonable officer would have responded to Patrick’s get away from a traffic stop as a reasonable basis to use deadly force,” and Schurr “had no information to support a reasonable suspicion that Patrick was dangerous.”

Schurr has denied that allegation. His lawyers have said he used the appropriate amount of force in the situation, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The lawsuit also alleges that the traffic stop was unlawful. The New York Times reported in April that Schurr’s patrol car was equipped with an automatic plate reader, but it wasn’t known if Schurr turned on the equipment at the time of the stop.

There’s speculation that the equipment didn’t alert Schurr about the license plate.

Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, one of the family’s attorneys, said at a news conference in Detroit on Tuesday (Dec. 7) that Schurr would not have turned his patrol vehicle around to stop Lyoya if Lyoya wasn’t Black, the Free Press reported.

“He is coming up with a pretextual reason to stop this Black driver, and that is driving while Black,” Crump said, later adding "you should not be sentenced to death for a traffic stop."

RELATED: Patrick Lyoya Died From Gunshot Wound To Back Of His Head, Independent Autopsy Shows

Another allegation is that Grand Rapids has a pattern of ignoring police excessive use of force and failing to discipline officers adequately after confirming that they violated police policies. It further alleges "an ongoing practice or custom or racial discrimination" in the department, according to MLive.

Lawyers for Lyoya’s family point to an April 2017 study finding that Grand Rapids police officers pulled over Black drivers two times more often than white drivers.

According to the Free Press, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights twice charged the police department for discrimination over complaints in 2017 and 2020 of officers mistreating Black residents.

Grand Rapids city officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We have not yet received the lawsuit and are unable to address the specifics. Upon receipt, we will review the lawsuit and respond appropriately in court,” a statement said, according to MLive.

Before immigrating to the United States in 2014, Lyoya lived with his family in a refugee camp in Malawi after escaping a violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Grand Rapids, which sits about 2 ½  hours west of Detroit, in recent years has become one of several western Michigan communities serving as a haven for immigrants fleeing war in the Congo. Each year, between 700 and 1,000 refugees from various nations come to the area, according to the nonprofit Refugee Education Center.

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