Grand Rapids — Christopher Schurr, the Grand Rapids police officer who was charged with second-degree murder in the April shooting death of motorist Patrick Lyoya, appeared via video Friday for his arraignment, where a judge set his bond at $100,000.
Schurr appeared by Zoom before Judge Nicholas S. Ayoub in the 61st District Court, where he pleaded not guilty.
The police officer told Ayoub that he understood the charges against him. But when asked if he had a chance to talk to his lawyers about his rights, Schurr denied it.
“As of today, I have not,” he told the judge.
Schurr’s attorneys went on to say that because Schurr was housed in a jail outside of Kent County, they were unable to meet before the arraignment.
Ayoub explained Schurr’s rights to him before explaining his thinking on whether Schurr was eligible for bond. The judge set Schurr’s bail at $100,000, saying while Schurr had no criminal history and had cooperated with proceedings, the nature of the charge “elevates pre-trial risk.”
As a condition of pretrial release, Schurr cannot purchase or possess any firearms or dangerous weapons, must remain under the supervision of court services, cannot drink liquor or use any illegal drugs and cannot engage in “any assaultive, threatening or intimidating behavior.”
Mark Dodge, one of Schurr’s attorneys, asked for a $10,000 bond. I have argued that Schurr was “not a flight risk.”
“He’s a lifelong resident of Michigan, other than some mission trips,” Dodge said.
Defense lawyers have said the shooting was not “murder but an unfortunate tragedy” during a volatile situation.
“Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death,” attorneys Matt Borgula and Mark Dodge said in a statement.
A probable cause conference in the case was set for 9:30 am June 21. A preliminary examination also is scheduled for June 28 at 1:30 p.m.
About 40 people gathered outside the courthouse before Friday’s hearing. Many were wearing Blue Lives Matter T-shirts. Police officers among them declined to comment.
After the arraignment, spectators from inside the courtroom and those in the hallway lined up a single file to individually hug a woman who had been sitting with Schurr’s family.
A group supporting Lyoya created a disturbance near elevators on the 7th floor. A man wearing a “We the People” T-shirt was yelled at loudly. A group of Kent County sheriff’s deputies monitored the ruckus and eventually let the man through a stairway exit.
The group left to follow a large number of Schurr’s supporters with cameras, saying they planned to edit them into footage they were taking of the event.
One man yelled repeatedly, “Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been murdered?”
Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker announced the charge Thursday during a news conference. Becker said he believed there was “a sufficient basis” to proceed with the charge, which is a felony that is punishable by up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
“The elements of second-degree murder is relatively simple,” Becker said. “First, there was a death, a death done by the defendant. … The death was not justified or excused, for example, by self-defense.”
Becker said he received the full police report from state police investigators eight days prior to announcing the charges and had consulted with legal experts before making a decision.
Schurr, 31, shot Lyoya, 26, on April 4 during a traffic stop. Video from the stop shows Schurr asking Lyoya, a Black immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, if he had a driver’s license and spoke English. When Lyoya indicated he spoke English and wanted to know why the license needed to be produced, the officer said the car wasn’t registered.
Lyoya eventually fled the car, after which the officer chased Lyoya, according to video from the Grand Rapids Police Department. The two struggled over the officer’s stun gun before he shot Lyoya in the back of the head while Lyoya was face down on the ground.
An independent autopsy performed by the request of the Lyoya family’s lawyers confirmed in April that it was a gunshot wound to the back of the head that killed Lyoya.
“While the road to justice for Patrick and his family has just begun, this decision is a crucial step in the right direction,” Lyoya family attorney Ben Crump said in a Thursday press conference. “Officer Schurr must be held accountable for his decision to pursue an unarmed Patrick, ultimately shooting him in the back of the head and killing him — for nothing more than a traffic stop.”
Legal experts told The News that Schurr must show there was an imminent threat to his life to justify using deadly force. Second-degree murder involves showing that the defendant may not have planned to kill someone in advance, but ended up causing someone’s death intentionally, said former Detroit US Attorney Barbara McQuade, who is now a law professor at the University of Michigan.
“A common defense to murder involving a police officer is self-defense or public authority defense. Jurors are typically instructed that they should view the police officer’s actions from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene,” McQuade said.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom recommended that Schurr be suspended and fired because of the charge. Schurr can fight the termination at a hearing, but if he declines, the firing would take effect immediately.