Michigan court hears arguments over murder charge against ex-police officer who shot Black motorist
Sep 5, 2023, 10:01 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2023, 7:18 am
(Cory Morse/MLive.com/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, Pool, File)
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Lawyers for a former Michigan police officer are asking the state appeals court to throw out a murder charge in the killing of a Black motorist in 2022.
A court hearing is underway Wednesday in the case against Christopher Schurr, who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head after a morning traffic stop in Grand Rapids turned into a short foot chase and vigorous struggle.
Schurr’s attorneys argued that lower courts wrongly applied the law to the circumstances of Lyoya’s death.
“Common law allows police officers to use deadly force to stop a felon from fleeing when the officer reasonably believed a felony had occurred,” said Matt Borgula, one of Schurr’s attorneys.
A judge in Grand Rapids last year found probable cause to send the second-degree murder case to the Kent County trial court. The evidence included video of the final moments when Schurr fired his gun while on top of Lyoya.
Schurr, who is white, repeatedly told Lyoya, 26, to take his hands off the officer’s Taser, according to the video.
Katie Wendt, an assistant prosecutor, argued Wednesday that Lyoya was not fleeing and that Schurr was in control of the situation when shots were fired.
“This wasn’t a high speed chase situation. (Lyoya) was on the ground and Officer Schurr could have grabbed any of those alternative techniques,” Wendt said.
Wendt urged the appeals court to follow a 1979 state Supreme Court decision in the case of a Detroit police officer who fatally shot a fleeing robbery suspect. The man had suddenly turned with a chair leg in his hands. The court said the question of excessive force should be left for a jury.
There is no timeframe for the Court of Appeals to render a decision after Wednesday’s arguments.
Schurr’s attorneys have argued that he was defending himself. A forensic video analyst, Robert McFarlane, said Lyoya failed to comply with 20 commands.
Nonetheless, a jury could conclude that Schurr “did not reasonably believe that his life was immediately at risk,” Judge Nicholas Ayoub said in ordering a trial.
Schurr, an officer for seven years, was fired in June 2022 after being charged with murder.
Grand Rapids, which has a population of about 200,000, is 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Detroit.