Lawyer for family of Patrick Lyoya says 26-year-old was victim of 'execution' by police

The family of Patrick Lyoya was speaking out Thursday after video was released showing the 26-year-old being held down and shot by a Grand Rapids, Mich., police officer.

Video shows refugee from Congo was chased, shot while held face down by officer

A still photo from video shows Patrick Lyoya, who was shot and killed on April 4 after what police said was a traffic stop. (Grand Rapids Police Department)

A lawyer representing the family of Patrick Lyoya, who was fatally shot by police in Grand Rapids, Mich., during a traffic stop earlier this month, said the man was executed. 

"This video was very difficult to watch," lawyer Ben Crump told a news conference on Thursday with the family, "because what you see in that video is unnecessary, unjustifiable, excessive use of fatal force. You see a police officer escalate a minor traffic stop into a deadly execution."

Video shows a brief foot chase and struggle over the officer's Taser before the white officer shoots Lyoya as the Black man is face down on the ground.

Lyoya's father, Peter Lyoya, took his six children, including his eldest, 26-year-old Patrick, from Congo in 2014 to escape violence. Now he says he fears he brought them to the United States to die. Peter Lyoya spoke with The Associated Press in his Lansing, Mich., apartment on Thursday, a day after police released video of the fatal encounter. Patrick's cousin Ben served as an interpreter.

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. Lyoya, who had 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.

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 [a] bullet."

"That was my beloved son. You know how you love your firstborn son," she said through an interpreter.

Lyoya's mother, Dorcas Lyoya, cries during a news conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, as she spoke of her firstborn son. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press/The Associated Press)

In the April 4 encounter, the officer repeatedly ordered Lyoya to "let go" of his Taser, at one point demanding: "Drop the Taser!"

Crump said the officer could have waited for backup once Lyoya ran but instead got "violent." He accused him of not following proper training by using the Taser while close to Lyoya, saying it was Lyoya's "natural instinct" to try to stop from being stunned.

WATCH | Video shows minutes leading up to Lyoya's death: 

Police release videos of Patrick Lyoya shooting

6 months ago
Duration 1:23
Police in Grand Rapids, Mich., presented several videos that appear to show the deadly shooting of Patrick Lyoya from behind, following a traffic stop.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom cited a need for transparency when releasing video collected from a passenger in Lyoya's car, the officer's body camera, the officer's patrol car and a doorbell camera. Winstrom didn't identify the officer, a seven-year veteran who is on paid leave during the investigation.

"I view it as a tragedy.... It was a progression of sadness for me," 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 240 kilometres northwest of Detroit.

Family wants officer named

Peter Lyoya asked for justice for his son and for the police to release the officer's name. He said his son was a nice child who never had a problem with anyone. He said Lyoya's brothers and sisters want to know who killed him and would like to see the officer's picture so they can know "this is the person that took our beloved one."

Video shows Lyoya running from the officer, who stopped him for driving with a licence plate that didn't belong to the vehicle. They struggled in front of several homes while Lyoya's passenger got out and watched.

A still photo taken from video shows Lyoya being held face down before he was shot. A lawyer for Lyoya's family says it was an 'execution.' (Grand Rapids Police Department)

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 to subdue him.

"From my view of the video, Taser was deployed twice. Taser did not make contact," Winstrom told reporters on Wednesday. "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.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Grand Rapids Police Department following Wednesday's release of the videos. The demonstration remained nonviolent.

Protesters march in Grand rapids, Mich., after police released video of the shooting death of Lyoya. (Joel Bissell/Kalamazoo Gazette/The Associated Press)

Traffic stop tense from the start

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 licence. The foot chase began soon after, video shows.

"This wasn't a felony offence," Crump said. "This wasn't even a moving violation. It was an inappropriate tag, allegedly." 

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.

The officer's body camera was turned off before the shooting, which happens when a button is pushed for three seconds, Winstrom said. He said it appears it was deactivated unintentionally due to body pressure during the struggle, but he would not discuss any officer statements about it.

"That will come out once the investigation's complete," Winstrom said.

With files from CBC News