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Demands grow for a white officer in Michigan to be charged in Black motorist's death

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Grand Rapids, Mich., there are increasing calls to charge the police officer who shot and killed a Black driver during a traffic stop last month. While the investigation is ongoing, the officer is still on the payroll and receiving benefits. From member station WGVU, Kylie Ambu reports.

KYLIE AMBU, BYLINE: It's been about a month since residents here were stunned by the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya. The Black Congolese refugee was killed by Christopher Schurr, a white Grand Rapids police officer, following a scuffle during a traffic stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER SCHURR: Stop. Stop.

AMBU: Body camera footage shows Schurr making the stop when he's unable to match the license plate with the car Lyoya's driving. When Schurr made physical contact, Lyoya ran away, leading to a foot chase and a struggle over the officer's Taser. The scuffle ended with Schurr on top of a face-down Lyoya and Schurr shooting him in the back of the head. Officer Schurr is on paid leave and stripped of his policing duties pending an investigation by Michigan State Police. Patrick Lyoya's parents call the killing unjustified. Speaking through an interpreter, his father, Peter, says it was an execution of his firstborn son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER LYOYA: (Through interpreter) I was thinking that Patrick will take my place. And to see that my son has been killed like an animal by this police officer, I see that I have no life. I see my heart been broken. I'm asking for justice.

AMBU: The Grand Rapids Police Officers Association has thrown its support behind Schurr. It released a statement calling Lyoya's death tragic but affirming Christopher Schurr's actions, saying an officer, quote, "has the legal right to protect themselves and community in a volatile, dangerous situation such as this in order to return to his or her family at the end of their shift." While Michigan State Police investigate the incident, ultimately, it's Kent County prosecutor Christopher Becker who will determine whether to charge Schurr in Lyoya's death. There have been calls for Becker to recuse himself because of the long-standing relationship between the prosecutor's office and police department. But Becker says there's no reason he should step down.

CHRISTOPHER BECKER: I don't know any of the individuals involved in the case. I don't know the officer involved. I don't know Mr. Lyoya. So, you know, the law is pretty clear on when disqualification is appropriate, and none of those are met here. I've done numerous officer-involved shootings over the past six years I've been elected. I don't know why it would change now.

AMBU: Becker has received a preliminary investigative report from the state police but says he's still waiting on forensic findings from the manufacturer of the body camera and Taser.

BECKER: I have no idea what comes back from that. It could be earth-shattering. It could be nothing. But, you know, you don't want to make a decision before you get that material.

AMBU: As the city awaits, public pressure continues to mount for police reform.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We are fighting for our lives, too. We could be the next Patrick.

AMBU: There have been weekend protests and marches that have shut down a city commission meeting. Additionally, since 2020, activists like Olabanji Olatunde (ph) have been rallying for police reform.

OLABANJI OLATUNDE: If people would have listened, it would have been preventable. But now it's just like an I-told-you-so moment. That's exactly what it is now. I told you so.

AMBU: Grand Rapids city leaders say they are making changes, proposing to more than double the budget for its Office of Oversight and Public Accountability. Activists' calls remain consistent. They want Christopher Schurr charged and fired and the department held accountable in Patrick Lyoya's death. For NPR News, I'm Kylie Ambu in Grand Rapids.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTOPHER SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "DANZIGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.