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Gun was pressed to back of Patrick Lyoya’s head when he was fatally shot, autopsy confirms

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Russ McNamara
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From left, civil rights attorneys Ven Johnson and Ben Crump are handling potential litigation against the Grand Rapids Police Department. Dr. Werner Spitz concluded that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by the police officer while being restrained on his stomach.

Attorneys representing the family of Patrick Lyoya, the 26-year-old Congolese man who was fatally shot after a traffic stop in Grand Rapids on April 4, were in Detroit Tuesday to discuss the findings of an independent autopsy.

Dr. Werner Spitz, a world-renown forensic pathologist and Wayne State University professor, concluded that Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by the Grand Rapids police officer while being restrained on his stomach.

“The bone in the back of the head was not broken — it was fragmented,” Spitz says.

He says his analysis showed the gun was pressed against the back of Lyoya’s head when the officer pulled the trigger.

“When the gun is held in contact with the skin and pushed against the skin the bullet the gunpowder the salt the gases all enter into the interior of the skull.”

Grand Rapids police had initially refused to say where Lyoya was shot – just that he was shot in the head.

Civil rights attorneys Ven Johnson and Ben Crump are handling potential litigation against the Grand Rapids Police Department.

Johnson says the initial stop doesn’t make sense.

“We just know what he said on the video,” Johnson says. “This license plate, he said to Patrick, doesn’t belong to this car and Patrick is like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So how would he know that when Patrick’s come in the other way and there’s no license plate that you can see on the back?”

Crump – who has handled many excessive force lawsuits – described to WDET how this compares to other cases he’s worked on.

“it is so unnecessary when you think about all he’s doing is walking away from him, his slippers that he had on have come off, his pants have fallen down, there is no reason for the police to use this type of force leading up to deadly force. [The punishment] for a simple misdemeanor traffic stop isn’t a deadly execution. It’s just so unnecessary.”

The Michigan State Police is still investigating the shooting. State police will give their findings to the Kent County prosecutor for consideration of any charges.

The officer, whose name hasn’t been released, is heard on video saying during a traffic stop that the license plate didn’t match the car. Lyoya was uncooperative and resisted arrest following the traffic stop. Lyoya declined to get back into the vehicle as ordered, and a short foot chase and struggle over a stun gun ensued.

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

All photos by Russ McNamara.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.