On Wednesday, police in Grand Rapids, Michigan, published bodycam recordings this showed a police officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, a black man. The officer had Lyoya pinned to the ground with one knee behind his back when he fired his gun.
The footage was released following calls from activists and Lyoya’s family, but there are still many unanswered questions about Lyoya’s death. Who was the officer and what history, if any, of violence against civilians does he have? Why did the officer’s body camera go off just before the fatal encounter ended? What reasons did the official have for interacting with Lyoya in the first place?
Lyoya, 26, was a Congolese refugee and came to America in 2014 to escape the violence. On April 4th he was was sitting in his car parked at a curb when the officer approached him and asked for ID.
The officer said Lyoya’s number plates were not registered on the vehicle he was driving. Lyoya tried to flee on foot, and the officer and Lyoya fought on the ground. The officer attempted to shock Lyoya with electric batons, but Lyoya grabbed the baton, trying to avoid being hit.
The officer then grabbed his gun and appeared to fire a shot in the back of Lyoya’s head or neck, killing him.
Demonstrations took place in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department for days, with protesters demanding more information and charging the police officer. The officer, a seven-year veteran, was hired paid vacation.
“You have to reveal the identity of the police officer. You have to hold the police officer accountable for every act because we saw the whole video,” Lyoya’s cousin told local media. “I’m disgusted that he’s sitting at home watching TV and still getting paid.”
Shaky beginning, fatal end
Experts are unsure whether police should have engaged Lyoya in the first place, given that his car was parked and he did not appear to have committed any crimes, aside from the alleged license plate discrepancy.
Scott Roberts, executive director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns at civil rights group Color of Change, said it was a flimsy excuse for the officer to interact with Lyoya and ask for ID.
“I would take that as an excuse,” Roberts said, referring to a common police practice where officers would stop someone under the guise of a minor injury for further investigation.
David Gans, director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at the Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington, DC, noted that these traffic delays are not only a form of nuisance, but can be deadly very quickly.
“It’s a terrible murder. It’s a reminder that so often what starts as a traffic delay turns deadly and ends with a black person being brutally killed by police,” Gans told HuffPost.
“It is clear that you cannot shoot a detainee because he or she is trying to flee the scene,” he said. “In a traffic stop, you can’t shoot the person because they may have resisted arrest. That is out of proportion to the circumstances.”
In the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court unanimously gave the green light to the practice of subterfuge stops Verdict that such stops are constitutional so long as there is probable cause for violation, and “even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist without an additional objective of law enforcement.”
There is a clear racial bias in applying these stops. Researchers from Stanford University and New York University analyzed nearly 100 million traffic stops in the US and found that Black people were up to twice as likely to be pulled over by police as whites — despite rarely possessing drugs, guns or other illegal items as a group. Black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, which the researchers suspect is because cops couldn’t apply bias when drivers were harder to see.
This kind of bias is evident in Grand Rapids. A study from 2017 found that Grand Rapids police stopped black drivers twice as often as white drivers. parents of five black children were outraged that same year after their sons, ages 12 to 14, were stopped and held at gunpoint by Grand Rapids police.
The department followed suit by hiring one Consultancy for the police to make recommendations for solving the internal problems of the department.
If the officer who killed Lyoya is eventually charged, there’s a good chance he’ll plead self-defense, citing Lyoya putting his hands on the stun gun. Body cam footage shows the officer attempting to use his stun gun and Lyoya attempting to stop him from hitting him.
But Roberts saw no evidence of ill intent in the video. Lyoya “didn’t try to take [the stun gun] and use it against the officer,” Roberts said. “He never tried to hit the officer.”
Body cam footage crops moments before the cop fires his gun into the back of Lyoya’s head or neck. Police said Wednesday the camera was “disabled.” Police officials speculated that it may have happened while the officer and Lyoya were engaged in a fight at the scene.
But the lost footage deprives the public – and prosecutors – from seeing a close-up of what happened immediately before the officer’s fatal action. The actual shooting was only caught by a bystander with a cellphone who stood several feet away from the officer and Lyoya.
A lack of transparency
Jennifer Kalczuk, a spokeswoman for the Grand Rapids Police Department, told HuffPost that it is not the department’s practice to name suspects until they have been charged with a crime.
However, according to Samuel Sinyangwe, an activist and police analyst, most police departments in the state designate cops who kill civilians. He compiled data on Michigan police departments in cases where officers’ names were found in incidents from 2017 to 2021 Mapping the Police Violence Planning Team.
As the officer’s name is not known, it is difficult to determine if he has a history of violence towards civilians. Even if his name is made public, state laws can make it difficult to obtain that information.
Police disciplinary records are largely limited in Michigan. Records would most often show suspensions, terminations, or any other form of severe discipline. Michigan is one of 38 states where unsubstantiated complaints or active investigations by police officers are confidential.
That Michigan Freedom of Information Act also exempts criminal prosecution documents from publication, unless there is a high level of public interest in the individual case.
“Grand Rapids has been less transparent than most,” Sinyangwe told HuffPost. “They don’t publish data on the use of force online so it’s very difficult to understand the pattern because they lack transparency.”
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/patrick-lyoya-shooting-grand-rapids-police_n_6259c322e4b06c2ea32a9e34 Patrick Lyoya’s family demands answers after fatal police shooting