GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Nearly seven months since the death of Patrick Lyoya, former Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr, who is accused of murdering Lyoya, appeared in court.
The burden during Thursday's preliminary hearing is on the prosecutor, who is presenting evidence to the judge in the form of witness testimony plus body camera and other video surveillance.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker started things off by calling Sgt. Nicholas Calati with the Grand Rapids Police Department to the witness stand.
Calati testified that he was not first on scene, but he did see Lyoya's body lying on the ground with his arms underneath him when he arrived. Calati also claims that after Lyoya was rolled over, there was a taser near his hands.
Calati also testified that he didn't perform CPR on Lyoya and he did not see any signs of life.
The second witness was Lyoya's friend, Aime Turishme, who was a passenger in Lyoya's car the morning of the shooting. He recorded video of the incident on his cell phone.
"I knew something was wrong," he testified.
Turishme admitted to hanging out with Lyoya the night before and drinking at a mutual friend's apartment. He says Lyoya initially got out of the car to check out a noise he heard, and that's when he noticed Schurr's approach.
It was when Turishme's cell phone video was played that both Turishme and Lyoya's parents became visibly distressed as they watched the moments leading up to Lyoya's death.
The defense questioned Turishme's friendship with Lyoya, and they asked him if Lyoya ever tried to sell him bridge cards.
Then Wayne Butler, a man who lived in one of the homes near where the shooting happened, took the stand. He testified that he believed Lyoya was never on the offense.
“The officer has control of Patrick the whole time, and when I say control, I mean physical control. Like it was a wrestling match, the officer is always winning 60-40,” Butler said. “It’s like a football game where one team always has the lead. He always had the lead, it wasn’t by much, and you could tell he was getting worn out, but he always had the upper hand.”
Butler said he tried to defuse the situation based on his experience as a Black man in America. He said he tried to communicate with Turishme when it started.
"That's when I start yelling to the guy in the car, 'Hey, get your guy, get your guy, get your guy, tell him to stay down, get your guy get your guy,'" he says. "Because I didn't know. I didn't want to jump in the middle of a police chase and get shot myself. I've got five daughters, I need to stay alive for them. But I didn't want this man regardless of what he did, you know, to die."
He also said he believes Schurr to be a good man, and although initially, he didn't think the officer did anything wrong, his opinion changed after he saw video of the actual shooting.
"The execution style is what changed it for me," he said.
Another neighbor was called to the stand. Fred Hunter testified that he couldn't see much of the interaction from his home. He said he only saw the beginning of a struggle and then Schurr and Lyoya were not in his view. A few minutes later, he heard the shooting.
"When I heard the gunshot then I went back to the window, and then that's when I saw the officers standing over Patrick with a gun," he said.
The last witness called by the prosecution was a Senior Investigations Engineer with Axon, Bryan Chiles. He specializes in taser and body cameras.
He said the taser didn't connect with anyone after being deployed twice, and he testified that there was potential for serious injury or death with the taser.
"Especially with a struggle going on, and people moving around, the potential is there," Chiles said.
The last two witnesses were Michigan State Police officials called by the defense. Robert McFarlane, a forensic video analyst, compiled all the different points-of-view of the incident into one video for the court.
Detective Jacquelyn Stasiak testified that after searching Lyoya's car following the shooting, she found multiple items like bridge cards, IDs and credit cards that didn't belong to Lyoya.
Becker did object to that, questioning the relevance of this testimony and calling speculation on it. The judge did allow the defense to continue their questioning of the detective who found these items.
Ultimately what matters in a preliminary hearing is the judge's opinion. Judge Nicholas Ayoub will decide if there is enough probable cause to send the case to trial.
The hearing is stretching into a second day, Friday, Oct. 28. Court is expected to begin at 8:30 a.m. One more witness is expected to testify before final motions and arguments from both the prosecution and defense.
Then, the judge could make his decision.
Patrick Lyoya's family is planning to file a civil lawsuit in federal court.
That's according to Attorney Tom Waun with Ven Johnson Law, representing the Lyoya family. He says the lawsuit is drafted against Schurr, and potentially the city of Grand Rapids.
Waun says the family was upset to hear the witnesses questioned by the defense on things they say they had nothing to do with Lyoya's death.
"(Schurr) didn't shoot (Lyoya) for having a bridge card in the back of the car, he didn't shoot him for having someone's ID in the car," he said after the hearing ended. "He didn't even shoot him because he was intoxicated. To bring out all these things to muddy the waters and make him look bad to justify what happened is just wrong."
Waun did not say how much the family will ask for in damages in the lawsuit. He said that decision typically comes at a later time.
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