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"Should that be the law? No." Defense argues state law gave cop right to shoot Lyoya

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A judge will take some more time to decide whether a former Grand Rapids police officer should face trial on charges he murdered Patrick Lyoya.

Christopher Schurr is charged with second-degree murder for shooting Lyoya in the back of the head following a traffic stop in April. Preliminary hearings were held this week in 61st District court in Grand Rapids to decide if the case has enough merit to proceed to trial.

Matt Borgula, defense attorney for former GRPD officer Christopher Schurr.

Schurr’s attorney Matt Borgula said the case shouldn’t move forward at all, because Michigan has no specific law that governs when police officers are allowed to kill on the job.

“And under common law, when met with force making a lawful arrest, you can use deadly force,” Borgula argued. “Now should that be the law? No, but that’s a question for the legislature, not this court.”

Schurr initially stopped Lyoya because the license plate on his car didn’t match the description of the car it belonged to. After being stopped, Lyoya got out of his car and fled. Schurr tackled him and there was a struggle over Schurr’s taser.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said officers are only authorized to use deadly force when it’s “immediately necessary.”

Becker brought up a screenshot from video of the killing, which shows Lyoya face down on the ground, and Schurr on top when Schurr shoots Lyoya in the back of the head.

“As a matter of law, can the court say this is necessary to prevent a felon’s escape?” Becker asked the judge. “There’s self-defense that’s immediately necessary when Patrick’s lying face-down on the ground?”

Becker said a jury, not the judge, should decide whether the killing was murder.

“I don’t think this is a close call for the court,” Becker told the judge. “I think it’s fairly easy for you.”

61st District Court judge Nicholas Ayoub seemed to suggest during arguments that he thinks a jury should get a chance to decide the case.

He questioned Borgula on whether there were any limitations at all about when police officers could use deadly force against felony suspects who resist them.

“If the court makes the decision, then it has to say … it’s an absolute privilege,” Ayoub said. “And I don’t think the law says it’s an absolute privilege. There’s some limitation.”

Ayoub said he plans to announce his decision on whether the case can move forward on Monday at 10 a.m.

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.