Patrick Lyoya: Independent autopsy confirms unarmed Black man was fatally shot in head by white police officer

Patrick Lyoya was shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 4 April

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 20 April 2022 06:03 BST
Attorney Ben Crump speaks at press conference about release of Patrick Lyoya autopsy

An independent autopsy has determined that unarmed Black man Patrick Lyoya was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head during a deadly altercation with a white police officer.

Attorneys representing Lyoya’s family released the findings of the autopsy in a press conference on Tuesday morning, ahead of the 26-year-old Congolese refugee’s funeral service on Friday.

The autopsy, carried out by high-profile forensic pathologist Dr Wener Spitz, found that his death was caused by a single bullet entering the back of his skull near the midline, then travelling up and to the right side of his skull and lodging near his right temporal bone. He died instantly.

“There is no question what killed this young man,” said Dr Spitz, adding that he believes the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head at point blank range when it was fired.

Lyoya, a 26-year-old who had moved to the US with his family from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014 , was killed by an unidentified officer after being pulled over for a traffic stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 4 April.

Graphic footage of his death released last week shows a brief struggle between the two men before the officer pins Lyoya down on the ground and fires one fatal shot, killing him.

The video has sparked protests in the City of Grand Rapids and growing calls for the officer to be arrested and criminally charged, with the victim’s grieving family describing their son’s death as an “execution”.

Ben Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney who is representing Lyoya’s family, said at Tuesday’s press conference that the autopsy findings prove “how graphic his killing was in a scientific manner” as he vowed to “get to the truth” of what happened to Lyoya.

“This independent autopsy report confirms what we all witnessed in the horrifying video footage,” he said.

“Unarmed Patrick Lyoya was conscious until the bullet entered his head, instantly ending what could have been a long and fruitful life.”

Dr Werner Spitz explains the findings of his independent autopsy (13 On Your Side)

Based on the current health of Lyoya, Dr Spitz concluded that the 26-year-old would have lived to be around 82.

The findings come ahead of the official autopsy report from the Kent County medical examiner, which is yet to be released.

Officials said last week that they would wait until they receive the results of toxicology and additional tissue tests and until the investigation is completed into Lyoya’s death before releasing the findings.

Dr Spitz did not carry out a toxicology examination.

Mr Crump said that his team is investigating “every aspect of how this Grand Rapids police officer escalated a simple misdemeanor traffic stop into a deadly execution with him shooting an unarmed civilian in the back of his head”.

He questioned whether Lyoya’s real crime was “DWB: driving while Black”.

Lyoya was initially pulled over for a traffic stop for allegedly driving with an improper licence plate.

Mr Crump pointed out that the officer could not have seen Lyoya’s licence plate when he decided to follow him, as the two were driving in the opposite direction to one another.

Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by an unidentified white police officer (Ben Crump)

“You will notice that the police officer initially isn’t travelling in the same direcion as Patrick. So what we see is him making a u-turn to get behind Patrick,” he said.

Mr Crump said this decision to follow Lyoya suggests the officer instantly “profiled the Black motorist”.

“How did he know that the tags were not valid when he was coming in the opposite direction?” he asked.

There are also pointed questions about the bodycam footage from the officer.

During the struggle between Lyoya and the officer, the body-worn camera stops working momentarily. It then starts working again seconds later.

It is not clear why the bodycam stopped working during the struggle.

Attorney Ven Johnson said that there are questions around how the bodycam could go off in the midst of a struggle.

“The button needs to be depressed for three seconds” to turn off, he said.

“Tell me how in a struggle while he’s on top of our client, our client is face down, the bodycam can be depressed in that one spot for three seconds,” he said.

“We also know later on it gets turned back on... I know what that means to me.”

Body camera video shows traffic stop of Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids (via REUTERS)

On Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Police Department released several videos of the 4 April encounter showing Lyoya being pulled over in his car by the officer before a struggle breaks out and the officer pins Lyoya to the ground and deploys his taser.

The incident then ends with the officer firing one fatal shot in the back of his head.

The roughly two-and-a-half minute long footage includes clips from four different videos: the officer’s police cruiser dashboard camera, the officer’s body-worn camera, surveillance footage from a nearby home, and phone video captured by a person riding in a car with Lyoya.

It begins with the officer pulling Lyoya over for a traffic stop at around 8am.

When he pulls over, Lyoya exits the vehicle.

“Stay in the car! Dude, I’m stopping you,” the officer says.

Patrick Lyoya runs from the officer before a struggle ensues

Bodycam footage shows Lyoya appearing visibly confused.

The officer asks for his driver’s licence and asks if he speaks English to which Lyoya replies “yes” and asks what he has done wrong.

He then turns to the door and speaks briefly to the passenger inside, before closing the driver’s side door and taking a few slow steps towards the front of the car.

At that moment, the officer starts saying “no, no, no, stop” and “put your hands behind your head” and grabs Lyoya by the arms.

Patrick Lyoya runs from a Grand Rapids Police officer during the traffic stop (via REUTERS)

A struggle then breaks out with Lyoya pushing the officer away and running to the sidewalk.

The officer tackles him to the ground and the two men continue to struggle on a lawn, with the officer heard telling Lyoya to “stop resisting”.

During the struggle, the officer fires his taser twice at Lyoya who then appears to grab the device from him.

The bodycam cuts off at that point but cellphone video shot by the passenger in the car captures what happens next.

The officer is seen on top of Lyoya, pinning him face down on the ground while shouting “drop the taser” at him.

Seconds later, the officer then pulls out his firearm and shoots Lyoya in the head at close range. His body goes limp.

The struggle lasted around 90 seconds. No weapons besides the officer’s gun and taser were found at the scene.

Police Chief Eric Winstrom said that the officer shot Lyoya once in the head while his face was toward the ground.

The police chief said at a press conference on Wednesday that the department was releasing the footage in the interest of transparency.

He described the incident as “a tragedy” and said watching the footage was “a progression of sadness for me”.

The officer is seen on top of Patrick Lyoya and firing one shot into his head (Grand Rapids Police Department )

The police have refused to name the officer, saying only that he had been on the force for seven years and had been placed on paid leave.

The officer will only be named if he is criminally charged over Lyoya’s death.

Michigan State Police is now leading the criminal investigation into the shooting with part of the probe exploring whether Lyoya understood the orders from the officer.

Lyoya’s parents spoke out last week to describe how their son was “killed like an animal” by the officer in a country that they relocated to for a better life for their family.

The 26-year-old’s funeral will be held at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids on Friday, where the eulogy will be read by civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton.

The death is the latest in a long line of police killings of Black people in America, coming almost two years on from the murder of George Floyd which sent shockwaves across the globe and sparked protests demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

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