Patrick Lyoya's family files lawsuit against police officer who fatally shot him

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(GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.) -- The family of Patrick Lyoya, who was fatally shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer in April, has filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against the officer and the city.

Their attorneys, Ben Crump and Ven Johnson, announced the lawsuit at a Wednesday press conference, alongside Lyoya's father Peter Lyoya.

The complaint against the now-former officer Christopher Schurr and the city of Grand Rapids includes both state and federal counts, Johnson said. The first claim alleges that Schurr used "unnecessary illegal excessive force." The second claim alleges the city's policies, practices, and training "led to Schurr utilizing excessive force."

The attorneys played three videos of the April 4 incident at the press conference, including footage from the dashcam of Schurr's car, his body camera, and cellphone footage taken by the passenger in Lyoya's vehicle. Lyoya's lawyers also allege they have the Ring home security camera video from the house across the street. They said they are also hoping to obtain the camera footage from the stun gun Schurr deployed during his confrontation with Lyoya.

Body camera and dashcam footage showed Schurr pulling Lyoya, a 26-year-old native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over because his license plate allegedly didn't match his car. After Schurr asked for his driver's license, Lyoya started to run.

Schurr then pursued and tackled him to the ground. Both were struggling on the ground and then Lyoya grabbed the officer's stun gun. Lyoya was allegedly attempting to deflect the stun gun away from himself, not to wrestle it from Schurr to use against him, the attorneys said at the press conference Tuesday.

After restraining Lyoya by pressing his knee to his back, Schurr shot Lyoya while he was face down, the bodycamera and cellphone footage show.The Kent County medical examiner confirmed Lyoya died from a gunshot to the back of his head.

Lyoya's family lawyers said the video footage and their consultations with police misconduct experts and taser experts will prove Schurr had racially profiled Lyoya when pulling him over and used excessive force, resulting in his death. The incident prompted protests throughout Grand Rapids.

Lyoya's attorneys said Lyoya's death was not an isolated incident, claiming there is a pattern of behavior in the police department that involves allegations of excessive force. Johnson said they found that between June 2015 and May 2020, 79 citizen complaints for excessive use of force were lodged against Grand Rapids police officers. All but two officers were "exonerated or otherwise cleared."

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is also investigating complaints of racial profiling and discrimination from Grand Rapids police officers, Johnson said.

An April 2017 study concluded that Black drivers in Grand Rapids were more than twice as likely compared to white drivers to be stopped by police despite constituting only 14 percent of the city's population.

"You have this pattern and practice of excessive force, so when you take 'driving while Black' plus excessive force, you end up with Patrick Lyoya being unjustly executed by this Grand Rapids police officer," Crump said at the press conference.

A Grand Rapids spokesperson said in a statement that the city has not yet received the lawsuit and cannot address the specifics.

"Upon receipt, we will review the lawsuit and respond appropriately in court," the spokesperson said.

Schurr's attorneys did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

Schurr's legal team previously wrote in a statement to Grand Rapids ABC affiliate WZZM-TV that Lyoya's death was "not murder but an unfortunate tragedy, resulting from a highly volatile situation."

"Mr. Lyoya continually refused to obey lawful commands and ultimately disarmed a police officer," they wrote. "Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer's weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death."

Schurr, a seven-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department, has also been criminally charged with second-degree murder in the case and will stand trial. He pleaded not guilty.

Schurr was fired from the police force in June.

Peter Lyoya, who says he watched the footage of the April 4 confrontation for the first time at the press conference, said he continues to have nightmares about his son getting shot. But he said he hopes the lawsuit will help prevent other parents from experiencing the loss he did.

"The pain is so deep," he said in his native language Swahili through an interpreter. "The bitterness is so deep to the point that I can even lose my life every time when I think about my son leaving us."

"I don't want else to happen to other parent because if Patrick gets his justice today, it will stop a lot of things to happen to a lot of young men out there, Black or white, their parents don't go through what I'm going through," he said.

Thursday, December 8, 2022 at 6:06AM by Amanda Su, ABC News Permalink