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Lyoya was defending himself in struggle, witnesses say in hearing for GRPD officer charged with murder

lyoya1027.jpg
Grand Rapids Police Department
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Patrick Lyoya, as captured by the officer's body camera, shortly after being pulled over.

On the day of the killing, Wayne Butler thought Officer Schurr had done nothing wrong.

Butler testified during a preliminary hearing at 61st District Court in Grand Rapids Thursday morning, a hearing meant to decide whether there’s enough evidence for Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr to face trial for shooting and killing Patrick Lyoya on the morning of April 4.

Schurr’s charged with second-degree murder. Butler saw the struggle that led to the shooting. Schurr pulled over Lyoya near Butler’s house, and Butler came outside after noticing that Lyoya had gotten out of his car and wasn’t listening to Schurr’s commands.

“Clearly he didn’t know what the rules in America are about traffic stops,” Butler said on the stand.

Lyoya was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Video of the incident shows Butler pleading with Lyoya to just comply. But as the situation escalated and Schurr and Lyoya tussled in the neighbor's yard, Butler says he ran inside his house to get a camera to film. That’s when he heard the gunshot.

And without seeing the shooting, he told Michigan State Troopers that day that he believed Schurr had done nothing wrong.

“I did,” Butler confirmed to Matt Borgula, Schurr’s defense attorney, on Thursday.

“And you might have an opinion about the shooting, but you didn’t see it,” Borgula said.

“Right,” Butler responded. “Execution-style is what changed it for me.”

“Okay, So someone told you it was execution style.”

“No,” Butler said. “After I saw the video.”

Video of the shooting came from Lyoya’s friend, Aime Tuyishime, who also testified Thursday in court.

Schurr’s own body-worn camera de-activated during the struggle with Lyoya, so prosecutors presented Tuyishime’s video in court to show what happened in the shooting.

In the video, which was first released to the public in April, Schurr is on top of Lyoya, with Lyoya facing down, when Schurr shoots him in the back of the head.

Schurr’s attorneys focused Thursday on what happened to Schurr’s taser before he reached for his gun. Schurr tried to use the taser twice while struggling with Lyoya, but it didn’t connect either time. Video shows Lyoya reach for Schurr’s taser, a part of the struggle that Butler said he witnessed himself.

“It was a defensive act to not - ” Butler started.

“To not get tased,” Borgula finished.

“To not get tased, yeah,” Butler said. “What anybody else would go through in a situation where they felt like they were threatened and had to get away.

“Okay.”

“It was a natural action to me,” Butler said.

Another witness, a fellow GRPD officer, testified Schurr’s taser was on the ground, near Lyoya’s hand when he arrived on the scene. Schurr’s attorneys suggested that Schurr had reason to fear Lyoya could have gained control of the taser and used it to incapacitate him during the struggle.

Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker said he had no more witnesses to call in the preliminary exam to determine whether Schurr will face trial. Defense attorneys say they plan to call at least one more witness when the exam resumes Friday morning, then the judge will hear arguments to decide whether the case can proceed.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.