GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A national expert in the use of force by police, who testified for the prosecution in the George Floyd murder trial, said the shooting of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer should never have happened.
“I see a lot of uses of force, a lot of uses of fatal force. None of them are easy to watch. This one certainly is not,” Professor Seth Stoughton said after watching, at Target 8’s request, the videos released Wednesday by Grand Rapids police.
Stroughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said the officer’s first mistake was chasing Lyoya, who was unarmed, after the traffic stop on April 4. The officer was on patrol alone and had no backup.
However, he said, the videos were not enough to show whether the shooting was justified or criminal.
“It raises some very significant red flags,” Stoughton said. “It is not in and of itself proof positive that the officer committed a crime; it is also not proof positive that the officer did not commit a crime. I would want more information than just this video.”
He watched the dash cam video as the officer approached Lyoya after the traffic stop and as Lyoya took off running. Lyoya’s passenger eventually got out of the car and used his phone to capture video of the shooting.
“If one person in a car goes running away, the officer just kind of watches and waves goodbye, while they deal with the people in the car. Safety should always be a priority,” Stoughton said.
Police, he said, could have identified him and gotten a warrant for later.
“There’s a pretty good chance that officers will be able to get people later even if they don’t actually get them right now,” he said. “It is preferable to go slower and safer than it is to go more quickly and less safe.”
He watched the video as the officer and the man wrestled.
“Through the physical portion of the encounter, the officer just does not look like he knows how to take this person into custody,” Stoughton said. “Had the officer either been significantly better trained in physical control techniques, or had he better employed physical control techniques, it seems at least plausible that he would not have used the Taser, drawn the Taser, lost control of the Taser or used the firearm.”
He questioned why the officer pulled the Taser when he did.
“Deploying the Taser at close range is not a good idea, because the guy can grab it. That’s exactly why you don’t do that,” Stoughton said.
He listened to the video as the officer yelled repeatedly for the man to let go of his Taser.
“We should distinguish between poor decision making, officer misconduct and criminal behavior. Just watching this video, I would tell you at a minimum what I would consider to be poor decision making,” he said. “Whether it rises to the level of a crime requires more information than I was able to get from just that video.”
The key, he said, was the Taser at the time of the shooting and whether it posed a threat of death or great bodily harm to the officer. It had already been fired twice, striking the ground.
“What were the capabilities of that Taser as a weapon? And what was the motorist, the driver, trying to do with that Taser?” he said.
Stoughton testified for the prosecution in April 2021 in the murder trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. The death led to national unrest.
Chauvin is serving 22 and a half years in prison after his conviction on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Stoughton also testified for prosecutors in the trial of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, who shot and killed Daunte Wright in April 2021.
Potter, who apparently mistook her gun for a Taser, was sentenced to two years in prison after her manslaughter conviction.