Grand Rapids

Patrick Lyoya's Family Left Congo to Escape Violence. A Michigan Cop Fatally Shot Him

A white Grand Rapids police officer shot the 26-year-old in the head while he was face down on the ground

Peter Lyoya holds up a picture of his son Patrick Lyoya,
AP Photo/Anna Nichols

Peter Lyoya took his six children from war-torn Congo in 2014 to escape violence. Now he fears he brought them to the U.S. to die.

A Michigan police officer fatally shot his eldest son, 26-year-old Patrick, in the head this month following a traffic stop in Grand Rapids. Video shows a brief foot chase and struggle over the officer's Taser before the white officer shoots Patrick Lyoya as the Black man is face down on the ground.

Peter Lyoya talked with The Associated Press in his Lansing apartment on Thursday, a day after police released video of the fatal encounter. Patrick’s cousin Ben served as an interpreter. The family's native language is Swahili.

Peter said the Lyoya family emigrated to the U.S. as refugees to get away from prolonged civil unrest in which several rebel groups have vied for control of territories in mineral-rich eastern Congo. Patrick, who has two young children of his own, worked at an auto parts factory in Grand Rapids and would visit his siblings in Lansing on weekends, his dad said.

“Patrick never had a problem with anybody," his dad said.

In the April 4 encounter, the officer repeatedly ordered Lyoya to “let go” of his Taser, at one point demanding: “Drop the Taser!”

The Grand Rapids Police Department released video from three different angles on Wednesday that show the moment an officer shot and killed 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya during a traffic stop.

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Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom cited a need for transparency when releasing video collected from a passenger in Lyoya car, the officer’s body camera, the officer’s patrol car and a doorbell camera. Winstrom didn’t identify the officer, a seven-year veteran who is on paid leave during the investigation.

“I view it as a tragedy. ... It was a progression of sadness for me,” said Winstrom, a former high-ranking Chicago police commander who became Grand Rapids chief in March. The city of about 200,000 people is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

Peter Lyoya asked for justice for his son and for the police to release the officer’s name. He said Patrick’s brothers and sisters want to know who killed him and would like to see his picture so they can know “this is the person that took our beloved one.”

Video shows Patrick Lyoya running from the officer who stopped him for driving with a license plate that didn't belong to the vehicle. They struggled in front of several homes while Lyoya's passenger got out and watched.

Winstrom said the fight over the Taser lasted about 90 seconds. In the final moments, the officer was on top of Lyoya, kneeling on his back at times to subdue him.

“From my view of the video, Taser was deployed twice. Taser did not make contact," Winstrom told reporters. “And Mr. Lyoya was shot in the head. However, that’s the only information that I have.”

State police are investigating. Kent County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Cohle, said he completed the autopsy but toxicology tests haven’t been finished.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she had spoken with the family.

“He arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family fleeing violence. He had his whole life ahead of him,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said.

The traffic stop was tense from the start. Video shows Lyoya getting out of the car before the officer approached. He ordered Lyoya to get back in the vehicle, but the man declined.

The officer asked him if he spoke English and demanded his driver's license. The foot chase began soon after, video shows.

Prosecutor Chris Becker will decide whether any charges are warranted but said the public shouldn't expect a quick decision. While the videos “are an important piece of evidence, they are not all of the evidence," he added.

The officer's body camera was turned off before the shooting, which happens when a button is pushed for three seconds, Winstrom said. He said it appears it was deactivated unintentionally due to body pressure during the struggle, but he would not discuss any officer statements about it.

“That will come out once the investigation's complete,” Winstrom said.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Grand Rapids Police Department following the release of the videos, with some cursing and shouting from behind barricades. The group demanded that officials make public the name of the officer in the shooting. The demonstration remained nonviolent.

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump,speaking on behalf of Lyoya's family, called for the officer to be fired and prosecuted.

“It should be noted that Patrick never used violence against this officer even though the officer used violence against him in several instances for what was a misdemeanor traffic stop,” Crump said in a news release.

As in many U.S. cities, Grand Rapids police have been occasionally criticized over the use of force, particularly against Black people, who make up 18% of the population.

In November, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit over the practice of photographing and fingerprinting people who were never charged with a crime. Grand Rapids said the policy changed in 2015.

A downtown street has been designated Breonna Taylor Way, named for the Black woman and Grand Rapids native who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, during a botched drug raid in 2020.

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AP reporters Ed White in Detroit, Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this story.

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