GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge heard from witnesses including Patrick Lyoya’s passenger the day he died, neighbors who live on the street where it happened and investigators as he mulled whether the murder case against the former Grand Rapids police officer who shot Lyoya should go to trial.
Chris Schurr is charged with second-degree murder in Lyoya’s death. His preliminary hearing began Thursday and was expected to continue Friday. When it’s over, a judge will rule on whether there is enough evidence to send the case on to trial.
Testimony was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday but was delayed nearly 20 minutes. Schurr was in attendance with his lawyers. He appeared much more worn down than he did the last time he appeared in court via Zoom earlier this year.
Lyoya’s family spoke briefly with the prosecution ahead of the hearing and sat behind Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker during the proceedings.
After Judge Nicholas Ayoub addressed the court over how the hearing would be handled, prosecutors called their first witness to the stand.
Nicholas Calati, a sergeant with the Grand Rapids Police Department, took the stand and explained that he was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene after the shooting of Lyoya. He testified that he arrived somewhere between 6 to 8 minutes after Schurr called in the shooting.
He noticed that Schurr was visibly tired once he got there and advised him to go sit in his police cruiser. Calati also noted that he saw a Taser near Lyoya’s body between the two homes.
Calati said that he did not render aid to Lyoya but said there were no signs of life when he looked over the body.
After Calati, the prosecution called Aime Tuyishime, a friend of Lyoya and the passenger of his car on April 4, the day he died.
Tuyishime had been hanging out with Lyoya the night before and the two were driving around that morning to drop off their third friend and visit Lyoya’s new home.
Tuyishime said that while driving, the two started to hear a noise coming from the back of the car. Lyoya pulled over on Nelson Avenue SE north of Griggs Street and went to check what was causing the noise. Tuyishime said that he then saw a police cruiser behind them.
Lyoya and the officer began talking and “going at it,” Tuyishime testified. He got out of Lyoya’s car and began recording the two wrestling in the front yard of homes before Lyoya was shot. The video Tuyishime took was played in court.
That video, along with dashboard and body camera video, shows Lyoya ran away and there was a struggle that included Lyoya grabbing Schurr’s Taser. Schurr, who was on top of Lyoya trying to hold him down, shot Lyoya in the back of the head.
The defense’s cross-examination of Tuyishime focused on his and Lyoya’s drinking the night before. Tuyishime admitted to drinking that night and that he and Lyoya bought beer at a store that morning during their trips.
The defense eventually played the video again while Tuyishime was on the stand to show Lyoya tell him “to get the keys.” Tuyishime said that he “did not want to watch” the video again and turned away from the screen.
The state then called on Wayne Butler, who lives on Nelson Avenue near where Lyoya was shot. He started his testimony by saying that morning “was a very traumatic incident” for him.
Butler said he was getting out of the shower when he noticed police lights in front of his home. He went to his front porch to see the fight between Schurr and Lyoya and later came outside to try and have Tuyishime convince Lyoya to lay down and stop the “wrestling match” between him and Schurr. He went inside to get his phone. While he was making his way back outside, he heard the gunshot.
Butler said that he thought Schurr tried to keep the traffic stop from escalating at first but that he ultimately made the wrong decision in shooting Lyoya.
“I believe Mr. Schurr to be a good man,” Butler said. “You don’t sign up to be the police because you’re a bad guy. That doesn’t mean that police don’t do things that are wrong. But I do believe him to be a good man.”
Butler echoed the same sentiment as Calati, saying Schurr appeared tired but saying he was “in control” of the situation the whole time.
Schurr’s body camera footage was shown in court as a second Nelson Avenue resident testified about what he saw that morning.
Prosecutors then called Bryan Chiles, a senior investigations engineer for Axon. He appeared in front of the court via Zoom.
Chiles wrote a 57-page report for Michigan State Police on both the Taser involved in the shooting and Schurr’s bodycam. The report discussed how many times the Taser was discharged and included photographs of the devices to show any damage to them.
Parts of the report were shown on screen, including one that showed the Taser’s first cartridge had been deployed but missed and was left on the ground several feet away from Schurr and Lyoya. A second cartridge was also deployed but was shot into the ground during the struggle.
Following an extended lunch break, the hearing continued just after 2 p.m., with the defense calling on Robert McFarlane to show the court a video that combined all three previously shown videos from Schurr’s dashcam, bodycam and Tuyishime’s cellphone. McFarlane is a forensic video analyst and former patrol officer. All three videos were put into McFarlane’s video to show three different vantage points of the shooting as it happened.
The final witness called Thursday was MSP Detective Jacquelyn Stasiak, one of the investigators assigned to the shooting. She conducted a search of Lyoya’s car following the shooting. She testified that several bridge cards, IDs and credit cards that did not bear Lyoya’s name were found inside. The prosecution objected to bringing up those discoveries, saying they would show that Lyoya was committing a crime that would cause him to flee once Schurr pulled him over. The judge ultimately let the defense continue.
After Stasiak’s testimony, the court decided to stop proceedings for the day and continue Friday morning. The defense says it has one witness left for but had not decided if it will ultimately call them. After that, final motions and arguments will be held.
CIVIL SUIT COULD COME IN WEEKS
As Schur’s family, friends and supporters sat behind him in court on Thursday, some of those who support Patrick Lyoya gathered outside the courthouse.
They chanted, “Justice for Patrick,” and “No justice, no peace.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department provided extra security for the preliminary hearing.
At Schurr’s last hearing in June, protesters loudly berated the former officer’s supporters. But this time, there were no reported incidents.
Those in court to support Schurr refused to talk on camera. Some wore, “I stand with Schurr” T-shirts. Some told News 8 they wanted their presence to speak for itself.
Outside, a crowd that grew to about two dozen chanted in support of Lyoya. Some wore “Justice for Patrick” T-shirts or held “Convict Christopher Schurr” signs.
“That means that these cops need to be held accountable,” protester Erykia Eaves said when asked what justice would mean for Lyoya.
She said she didn’t know Patrick.
“But I know that Patrick is a Black man, and I gave birth to a Black daughter, and I have Black brothers,” she said.
After the hearing, an attorney for the Lyoya family said his office plans to file a civil suit against Schurr in a matter of weeks, likely in federal court.
Attorney Tom Waun, of the Detroit-based law firm Johnson Law, said he sat in on Thursday’s hearing to see if he’d learn anything new. He said he didn’t.
After the hearing, he met with Lyoya’s family and the prosecutor. He said the family was upset after defense attorneys brought out dirt on Lyoya, including fraudulent IDs and Bridge cards found in his car, after the shooting.
“The family finds it upsetting, as we do, that they bring out things that don’t have anything to do with the killing,” Waun said. “He didn’t shoot him because they had a Bridge card in the back of the car. He didn’t shoot him because he had somebody else’s ID in the car. He didn’t even shoot him because he was intoxicated. To bring out all these things just to kind of muddy the water in regards to Patrick and make him look bad to try to justify what happened. That’s just wrong.”
The preliminary hearing has been a long time coming. It was delayed twice, with Schurr’s attorneys saying they needed time to get and sort through seven years’ worth of GRPD training records. Lyoya’s family has criticized the delays, with his father saying each one was “like a knife in my heart.”
That Schurr killed Lyoya is not in question. If the judge sends the case to trial, it will be up to a jury to decide whether it constituted murder. The second-degree murder charge means the prosecutor decided the shooting could not be justified by self-defense. Schurr’s attorneys argue he acted in accordance with GRPD policy and that his use of deadly force was justified.
Schurr, 31, who has been fired from GRPD, has been out on bond since shortly after his arrest and charging in June. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.