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Michigan court hears arguments over murder charge against ex-police officer who shot Black motorist

The murder charge stems from a morning traffic stop that ended with then-Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr shooting Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head

Michigan Court of Appeals
A crowd prepares for a Michigan Court of Appeals hearing in the case against Christopher Schurr to begin in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023Cory Morse (AP)

A Michigan appeals court heard arguments Wednesday on whether a former police officer should go to trial for a murder charge in the killing of a Black motorist in 2022.

The murder charge stems from a morning traffic stop last year that ended with Christopher Schurr, who was a Grand Rapids police officer at the time, shooting Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head while on top of him. The fatal shooting was preceded by a short chase and struggle, according to a video of the incident that was released.

Schurr’s lawyers on Wednesday asked the court to throw out the murder charge, saying that the law allows the use of deadly force “to stop a felon from fleeing when the officer reasonably believed a felony had occurred.”

Prosecutors argued for a jury to decide on the charges. Katie Wendt, an assistant prosecutor, said that Lyoya, 26, wasn’t fleeing and that Schurr was in control of the situation when shots were fired.

“This wasn’t a high-speed chase situation. (Lyoya) was on the ground, and Officer Schurr could have grabbed any of those alternative techniques,” Wendt said.

Lyoya’s family was in attendance at the hearing in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, according to Wendt.

Schurr, who was fired in June 2022 after being charged with murder, is scheduled to stand trial in October, but the date could be pushed back for pending appeals. There is no time frame for the Court of Appeals to render a decision after Wednesday’s arguments, and Schurr’s lawyers still have the option of asking the Michigan Supreme Court to take up the appeal.

A judge in Grand Rapids last year found probable cause to send the second-degree murder case to the Kent County trial court. A jury could conclude that Schurr “did not reasonably believe that his life was immediately at risk,” Judge Nicholas Ayoub said in ordering a trial.

The evidence in last year’s trial included video of the final moments when Schurr fired his gun while on top of Lyoya. The video shows Schurr, who is white, repeatedly telling Lyoya to take his hands off the officer’s Taser.

Schurr’s attorneys have argued that he was defending himself. A forensic video analyst, Robert McFarlane, said Lyoya failed to comply with 20 commands.

Grand Rapids, which has a population of about 200,000, is in western Michigan.

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