The Murder Charge in Patrick Lyoya’s Death Is a Rare Thing

A Grand Rapids, Mich. court has arraigned Christopher Schurr in second-degree criminal charges related to April’s shooting death Patrick Lyoya. Schurr was present in another courtroom. Schurr, dressed in an orange jail uniform, and wearing a blue surgical face mask, responded to questions rather than being questioned by police officers.

Judge Nicholas Ayoub informed him about his rights, noting that Schurr previously entered a plea of not guilty. Schurr had been suspended with pay since the shooting—during which video footage captured 26-year-old Lyoya, an unarmed Black man, engaged in a brief chase and struggle before being shot while face-down in a Grand Rapids front yard—but local Police Chief Eric Winstrom announced Thursday that he would now suspend Schurr without pay and recommend that Schurr also be fired. Schurr’s lawyers could not be reached for comment Friday but said in court that Lyoya’s shooting had been justified. Before the end of Friday’s remote court proceedings, Ayoub granted Shurr a $100,000 bond.

What happened Friday in Ayoub’s courtroom followed the routine and rigidity of the usual legal process, but took on an extra layer of weight—perhaps because, while the words and gestures were familiar, their context was rather rare. Schurr was one of a few police officers who were charged with murder and non-negligent killings. According to the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, only 220 officers were charged with these crimes in the decade 2005-2016. Since then, four people in Minneapolis have been arrested for crime connected to a deceased person. A Washington prosecutor is meanwhile. PostA tally of Americans shot and killed in police shootings in America includes records for nearly 1,000 deaths alone in 2015, as well as more than 7,000 in total since that time.

Two counts sum up a reality that many in courtroom were aware of, just as local television news crews captured outside protestors. Few officers are charged with crimes in connection with their on-duty service—and an even smaller group still are convicted.

Learn more ‘We Knew It Was Coming.’ Police-Reform Advocates in Grand Rapids, Mich., Had Been Bracing for a Death Like Patrick Lyoya’s

Charges against police officers are in fact unusual enough that Lyoya’s father, a Congolese refugee who had called for the officer to be arrested within minutes of viewing a video of his son’s final moments, expressed a particularly American kind of surprise.

“We strongly believed there was no justice in America, until today,” Peter Lyoya told the Washington Post This Thursday marks two months since the death of my son. “What I want is the final justice for my son.”

Lyoya the elder was not alone.

In the days after Lyoya was shot, police-accountability activists, lawyers, and even Black city and county officials described a local policing environment that left Black and Latino residents afraid of being roughed up—even killed—in encounters with the city’s law enforcement. Some expressed doubt that Lyoya’s shooting officer would be charged with any crime by a system which was still struggling to curb what they perceived as excessive policing.

Learn more Behind ‘Grand Rapids Nice,’ Police Problems Run Deep in Michigan

Cle Jackson of Grand Rapids NAACP expressed concern during a Thursday press conference following the release of Schurr’s murder charges. Jackson told reporters he’d been shocked by the second-degree murder charges filed against Schurr—but that now, reassured that the killing would be examined in court, he would be watching the legal process closely.

“Now,” Jackson said, “the fight really begins.”

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