A former Michigan police officer who shot a Black motorist in the back of the head will stand trial for second-degree murder, a United States judge said Monday.
Judge Nicholas Ayoub announced his decision after hearing testimony last week and seeing video about the death of Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A jury will decide whether Christopher Schurr’s use of deadly force was necessary “after a full and fair trial”, Ayoub said.
Lyoya, 26, briefly ran from a traffic stop then grappled with Schurr across a front lawn before the white officer shot him at point-blank range. The final moment last April was recorded on video by a man who was a passenger in the car with Lyoya.
Schurr repeatedly told Lyoya to take his hands off the officer’s Taser, according to video. The refugee from Congo was face down on the ground when he was killed.
Ayoub only had to find probable cause to send the case to the Kent County trial court, a low standard of evidence at this stage under Michigan state law.
“The law recognises that law enforcement officers are required to make split-second decisions of life and death in dangerous and strenuous circumstances,” Ayoub said. “The reasonableness of those actions can hardly be fully and fairly judged by one person in a black robe with 20-20 vision of hindsight and from the comfortable and safe vantage point of the high perch of the armour-plated judge’s bench.”
Schurr’s attorney argued Friday that the officer was defending himself when Lyoya wouldn’t give up. A forensic video analyst, Robert McFarlane, testified that Lyoya failed to comply with 20 commands.
“He pushed. He shoved, popped his arms,” lawyer Matt Borgula said.
Schurr, an officer for seven years, was fired in June after being charged with murder.
A lawyer representing Lyoya’s family, Ven Johnson, said a trial will be a key step towards “obtaining full and complete justice”.
Grand Rapids, which has a population of about 200,000, is 260km (160 miles) west of Detroit.
Lyoya’s killing by an officer came after numerous others in recent years involving Black people killed by police, including George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked a national reckoning on race; Daunte Wright, who was shot during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis; Andre Hill, who was killed in Columbus, Ohio; and Andrew Brown Jr, who was killed in North Carolina.