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GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Moments surrounding the death of Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed Black man shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop, made some experts believe the officer could have avoided the shooting.
Two law professors contacted by MLive/The Grand Rapids Press reviewed video footage of the Lyoya being killed by the unnamed police officer. Based on what they saw on the video, they said the officer didn’t need to shoot Lyoya.
One of the professors, David A. Harris, claimed a foot chase was not needed in this case, while the other professor, Jeffrey A. Fagan, said a manslaughter charge is inevitable.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom, this week, released chilling video that showed the officer on top of Lyoya, 26, who was lying facedown in the grass when he was shot in the head during a traffic stop April 4. Michigan State Police are investigating the fatal shooting before eventually turning it over to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker for a charging decision.
David A. Harris, the Sally Ann Semenko endowed chair and professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said there were a number of things – throughout the traffic stop – that didn’t go right on the officer’s part.
Harris studies, writes and teaches about police behavior, law enforcement and race, and search and seizure law.
MLive/Grand Rapids Press contacted Harris on Thursday, April 14 and emailed him a 20-minute video showing various angles of the shooting.
The video shows the officer tell Lyoya to “stay in the car, stay in the car” as the officer approached during the traffic stop.
“What did I do wrong?” Lyoya asked while standing outside the vehicle.
The officer told him that the license plates did not match the car. Moments later, the officer appeared to briefly grab Lyoya – a moment where “this whole thing begins to go sideways,” Harris said.
Lyoya then briefly flees before the officer begins a foot pursuit, later taking Lyoya to the ground where the struggle began.
“Engaging in a foot chase can be risky,” Harris said.
A foot chase can be a difficult and dangerous practice for police, Harris said, because the officer didn’t know if Lyoya was armed; if anyone nearby could help; and what intentions the passenger in Lyoya’s vehicle had.
A foot pursuit, in this instance, was not needed, Harris said.
“You have their vehicle right there,” Harris said, noting the officer could have identified Lyoya by searching the vehicle identification number.
In February, the Chicago Police Department wrapped up the process for instituting a foot-pursuit policy, which says chases should only be initiated if the need to detain the person outweighs the risk to the public and the officer, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The first draft of the policy was launched in May 2021 — about two months after two separate police chases ended in controversial fatal shootings.
Policies on foot pursuits are not listed in GRPD’s traffic and accidents procedures.
It’s a policy more police departments in the United States should begin to embrace, Harris said.
“The idea you have to chase everybody down who tries to get away from you is simply false,” Harris said. “When the offense is wrong plate on the car, there’s no justification for it.”
After reviewing the footage, Harris pointed to one conclusion:
“I just don’t see the justification for pulling out the firearm and killing him,” he said.
Kent County prosecutors said no decision will be made on potential charges against the unnamed officer until Michigan State Police conclude its investigation.
A manslaughter charge is inevitable, Jeffrey A. Fagan, a Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher professor of law at Columbia Law School, told MLive/Grand Rapids Press on Thursday, April 14.
“Should happen sooner than later,” he wrote in an email. Manslaughter carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
Fagan is a leading expert on policing, crime, gun control, and race whose scholarly research is influential in setting public policy.
MLive also contacted Fagan on Thursday and asked him to review the same video of the fatal shooting.
“This is a case where the mental health crisis team could have reduced the risk of a shooting,” Fagan wrote in the email.
From Fagan’s point-of-view, “at no point was the officer’s life in danger.”
“He shot as if the victim was armed and dangerous, which he wasn’t,” he wrote.
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