Autopsy shows unarmed Black man shot in head by US police officer

Patrick Lyoya was killed during a traffic stop in the US state of Michigan, spurring protests and calls for accountability.

A TV display shows video evidence of a Grand Rapids police officer struggling with and shooting Patrick Lyoya.
Police in Grand Rapids, Michigan, released dash cam and body camera footage of the deadly traffic stop on April 4 [Grand Rapids Police Department]

An independent autopsy has confirmed that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by a police officer in the US state of Michigan while face down on the ground, lawyers for his family said.

The finding by a former Detroit-area medical examiner released on Tuesday matches what was seen last week in the video released by the police chief in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about 240km (150 miles) northwest of Detroit. The official autopsy report has not been released to the public.

The 26-year-old, who was originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was killed on April 4 after a police officer pulled him over in Grand Rapids. He and the officer physically struggled on the ground before Lyoya was fatally shot.

“This independent autopsy report confirms what we all witnessed in the horrifying video footage,” lawyer Ben Crump said on Tuesday. “Unarmed Patrick Lyoya was conscious until the bullet entered his head, instantly ending what could have been a long and fruitful life.”

Autopsy results released by a lawyer for Lyoya's family showed he died from being shot in the back of the head.
Autopsy results showed Lyoya died from a shot to the back of his head [Grand Rapids Police Department video]

Lyoya’s killing has led to demonstrations and renewed calls for an end to police violence against Black people in the United States, an issue that sparked mass Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Last week, police released videos of the incident taken from the dashboard of the officer’s squad car and from his body-worn camera, as well as from a neighbour’s surveillance camera.

They show Lyoya stepping out of the car on a rainy street, seemingly confused and asking “what did I do?” as the policeman repeatedly asks for a driver’s licence and orders him to get back inside the vehicle.

Lyoya appears to be complying, but then closes the driver-side door and attempts to walk away, resisting the officer’s attempts to handcuff him. Following a short foot chase, the two men grapple on the lawn, at one point fighting over the officer’s Taser stun gun.

His family has demanded that authorities dismiss the officer, who has not been identified publicly, and file criminal charges against him.

A tearful Dorcas Lyoya, mother of Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police officer during a traffic stop on April 4, attends a news conference the day after video footage of the shooting was released in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dorcas Lyoya, the 26-year-old’s mother, has called for charges to be brought against the police officer who shot dead her son [Rebecca Cook/Reuters]

“To see that my son has been killed like an animal by this police officer, to see this video they showed, I see that I have no life, I see my heart being broken,” Lyoya’s father, Peter Lyoya, told reporters last week. “I’m asking for justice. I’m asking for justice for Patrick.”

Grand Rapids police officials have placed the officer on administrative leave, and have asked the Michigan State Police to investigate the shooting.

The state police have said they will give their findings to the Kent County prosecutor for consideration of any charges.

The autopsy was performed by Dr Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist. Spitz said he found no signs of a struggle such as scratches or bruises on Lyoya’s body, noting that the only injury was a bullet wound.

He also said he did not know the calibre of bullet that was fired, but that it was a “powerful bullet” that killed him. Spitz also said he believes the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head when the officer fired, based on the condition of a bone in the head.

Grand Rapids police spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk declined to comment on the independent autopsy findings.

Lyoya’s funeral is planned for Friday at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids. The Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said it will help cover the cost. Sharpton will deliver a eulogy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies