GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Peter Lyoya took his six children from Congo in 2014 to escape violence. Now he fears he brought them to the United States to die.
A Michigan police officer shot and killed his eldest son, Patrick, 26, in the head this month following a traffic stop in Grand Rapids. Video released Wednesday shows a brief foot chase and struggle with the Taser from the white officer before he shoots Patrick Lyoya in the head as the black man is face down.
Peter Lyoya said on Thursday he had come to the United States to escape a protracted civil unrest in which several rebel groups were vying for control of territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo. Patrick, who had two young children himself, lived in Grand Rapids and visited Lansing on weekends and spent money on his siblings, his father said.
“Patrick never had a problem with anyone,” his father told The Associated Press through an interpreter during an interview at his Lansing apartment. He and his wife then spoke at an emotional press conference in Grand Rapids, a city of about 200,000 people. 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.
During the April 4 meeting, the officer repeatedly ordered Patrick Lyoya to drop the Taser.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom spoke of a need for transparency when releasing video collected from a passenger in the car Lyoya was driving, the officer’s body camera, the officer’s patrol car and a doorbell camera. Winstrom did not identify the officer, a seven-year veteran who is on paid leave while state police investigate the shooting.
Lawyers for the Lyoya family said the officer should be prosecuted and fired.
“The video shows us that this is, as his mother and father said, an execution. And there’s no way to try to spin it or justify it,” prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump said as Patrick’s parents wept. “This is an unjustifiable use of lethal force because the police turned a traffic stop into an execution.”
The Lyoyas also asked the police to release the name of the officer. Patrick’s siblings want to know who killed him and would like to see his photo to find out “he was the person who took our loved one”, Peter Lyoya says.
Prosecutor Chris Becker, who will decide whether charges are warranted, said the public should not expect a quick decision.
The video shows Patrick Lyoya fleeing from the officer who arrested him for driving with a license plate that did not belong to the vehicle. They struggled in front of several houses.
Winstrom said the taser fight lasted about 90 seconds. In the final moments, the officer was on top of Lyoya, occasionally kneeling on his back.
“From my view of the video, the Taser was deployed twice. Taser did not make contact,” Winstrom, a former senior Chicago police officer who became Grand Rapids chief, told reporters in March. “And Mr. Lyoya was shot in the head. However, that’s the only information I have.”
Traffic control was tense from the start. The video shows Lyoya getting out of the car before the officer approaches. He ordered Lyoya to get back into the vehicle, but the man refused.
The officer demanded his driver’s license and asked him if he spoke English. Lyoya replied “yes” and said the permit was in the vehicle. The foot chase began after Lyoya closed the car door and started walking. The officer told Lyoya to “stop” and tried to put his hands behind his back.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas, told reporters she believed the family was safe after leaving Congo and was “surprised to see that my son was killed by (a) bullet”.
“He was my beloved son. You know how much you love your firstborn son,” she said through an interpreter.
Crump said the officer could have waited for reinforcements once Lyoya ran, but became “violent”. dazed.
Because the Taser was fired twice, it was ineffective without reloading, Crump said.
“There was no reason for him to have an intimate fear that the Taser would be used against him,” he said of the officer.
However, a Taser can still deliver a shock after both rounds are depleted if a person holds it up to someone and fires. According to Andrew J. Scott III, an expert in police practices and procedures and former police chief of Boca Raton, Florida, what is called a “drive-by stun” does not incapacitate the person, but hurt her.
A Taser can also only be used when the cartridges are still in the weapon. Officers sometimes do this in hopes of not having to deploy the Taser probes.
As in many American cities, police in Grand Rapids have sometimes been criticized for the use of force, particularly against black people, who make up 18% of the population. Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Grand Rapids Police Department after the videos were released on Wednesday. The protest remained non-violent.
A downtown street has been designated Breonna Taylor Way, named after the black and Grand Rapids native woman who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in a botched 2020 drug raid.
Her mother, Tamika Palmer, attended the press conference with the Lyoya family, their legal team and community leaders.
“We can’t keep letting these people kill our children,” she said.
Report Nichols and Eggert of Lansing, Michigan. AP writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed.