By ANNA LIZ NICHOLS and DAVID EGGERT and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Peter Lyoya took his six children from Congo in 2014 to escape violence. Now he fears he brought them to the U.S. to die.
A Michigan police officer fatally shot his eldest son, 26-year-old Patrick, in the head this month following a traffic stop in Grand Rapids. Video shows a brief foot chase and struggle over the officer’s Taser before the white officer shoots Patrick Lyoya as the Black man is face down on the ground.
Peter Lyoya talked with The Associated Press in his Lansing apartment and later at an emotional news conference in Grand Rapids on Thursday, a day after police released video of the fatal encounter.
Peter said he came to the U.S. to get away from prolonged civil unrest in which several rebel groups have vied for control of territories in mineral-rich eastern Congo. Patrick, who has two young children of his own, worked at an auto parts factory in Grand Rapids and would visit his siblings in Lansing on weekends, his father said.
“Patrick never had a problem with anybody,” his dad told the AP through an interpreter.
In the April 4 encounter, the officer repeatedly ordered Lyoya to “let go” of his Taser, at one point demanding: “Drop the Taser!”
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom cited a need for transparency when releasing video collected from a passenger in the car Patrick 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 during the investigation.
“I view it as a tragedy,” said Winstrom, a former high-ranking Chicago police commander who became Grand Rapids chief in March. The city of about 200,000 people is about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.
Lawyers for the Lyoya family said the officer should be prosecuted and fired.
“The video shows us that this is as mother and father have said — an execution. And there is no way to try to spin it or justify,” said prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump. “It is an unjustifiable use of deadly force because the police escalated a traffic stop into an execution.”
Peter Lyoya also asked for police to release the officer’s name. He said Patrick’s brothers and sisters want to know who killed him and would like to see his picture so they can know “this is the person that took our beloved one.”
Video shows Patrick Lyoya running from the officer who stopped him for driving with a license plate that didn’t belong to the vehicle. They struggled in front of several homes while Lyoya’s passenger got out and watched.
Winstrom said the fight over the Taser lasted about 90 seconds. In the final moments, the officer was on top of Lyoya, kneeling on his back at times.
“From my view of the video, Taser was deployed twice. Taser did not make contact,” Winstrom told reporters. “And Mr. Lyoya was shot in the head. However, that’s the only information that I have.”
State police are investigating. Kent County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Cohle, said he completed the autopsy but toxicology tests haven’t been finished.
The traffic stop was tense from the start. Video shows Lyoya getting out of the car before the officer approached. He ordered Lyoya to get back in the vehicle, but the man declined.
The officer asked him if he spoke English and demanded his driver’s license. Lyoya responded to the officer in English. The foot chase began soon after.
Prosecutor Chris Becker will decide whether any charges are warranted but said the public shouldn’t expect a quick decision. While the videos “are an important piece of evidence, they are not all of the evidence,” he added.
Lyoya’s mother, Dorcas, told reporters that she thought the family was in a safe place after leaving Congo and was “astonished to see that my son has been killed with bullets.”
“That was my beloved son. You know how you love your firstborn son,” she said through an interpreter.
On Wednesday several hundred protesters gathered outside the Grand Rapids Police Department following the release of the videos, with some cursing and shouting from behind barricades. The demonstration remained nonviolent.
As in many U.S. cities, Grand Rapids police have been occasionally criticized over the use of force, particularly against Black people, who make up 18% of the population.
In November, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit over the practice of photographing and fingerprinting people who were never charged with a crime. Grand Rapids said the policy changed in 2015.
A downtown street has been designated Breonna Taylor Way, named for the Black woman and Grand Rapids native who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, during a botched drug raid in 2020.
AP reporters Ed White in Detroit, Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this story.
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