A Michigan police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man in the head two months ago has been charged with second-degree murder, a prosecutor in the US state has announced.
The family and supporters of Patrick Lyoya, 26, had called on authorities to charge Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr, who killed Lyoya during a traffic stop on April 4.
Christopher Becker, the Kent County prosecuting attorney, told reporters on Thursday that based on the police investigation into the incident, he had decided “to charge Christopher Schurr with one count of second-degree murder”.
“Second-degree murder is felony offence. It is punishable by up to life in prison, with the possibility of parole,” Becker said during a news conference.
Lyoya was lying face down on the ground when he was killed.
His death spurred protests in Grand Rapids and renewed calls for an end to police violence against Black people in the US, which saw a wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020 amid several other high-profile police killings.
Citing a need for transparency, police in Grand Rapids released videos after Lyoya’s death showing the fatal shooting, including critical footage recorded by a passenger in the 26-year-old’s car.
They show Lyoya stepping out of the car on a rainy street, seemingly confused and asking “What did I do?” as the officer repeatedly asks for a driver’s licence and orders him to get back inside the vehicle.
Video shows Lyoya running from the officer, who stopped him for driving with a licence plate that did not belong to the vehicle. They struggled in front of several homes and the officer repeatedly ordered Lyoya to “let go” of his Taser, at one point demanding: “Drop the Taser!”
Lyoya’s family, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had demanded that authorities fire the officer and file criminal charges against him.
“My life was Patrick, my son,” Lyoya’s father, Peter, said during an emotional news conference in mid-April.
“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,” he said. “I’m asking for justice. I’m asking for justice for Patrick.”
A forensic pathologist who performed an independent autopsy on Lyoya said the officer held his gun to the back of the man’s head and fired once.
Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle said in his autopsy that he found Lyoya had a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, local media reported.
Lyoya’s father Peter watched Thursday’s announcement with his lawyer, Ven Johnson, in Detroit.
“We strongly believed there was no justice in America, until today,” Peter Lyoya said. “What I want is the final justice for my son.”
Prominent US civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has been supporting the family, also welcomed the decision. “While the road to justice for Patrick and his family has just begun, this decision is a crucial step in the right direction,” Crump said in a statement.
“Officer Schurr must be held accountable for his decision to pursue an unarmed Patrick, ultimately shooting him in the back of the head and killing him – for nothing more than a traffic stop.”
Becker, the Kent County prosecutor, said Schurr had turned himself in to authorities and would be arraigned on Friday. The identity of his lawyer was not immediately known.
The officer, a seven-year veteran, has not talked publicly about the shooting.