DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan police officer who killed Patrick Lyoya after a traffic stop pressed the gun against his head when firing the fatal shot, an expert who performed an independent autopsy for the Black man’s family said Tuesday.
Dr. Werner Spitz confirmed what was seen last week on video: Lyoya was shot in the back of the head while facedown on the ground during a vigorous struggle with a white Grand Rapids officer on April 4.
Spitz appeared at a news conference with lawyers for Lyoya’s family, who said they believe video collected and released by police shows that the 26-year-old refugee from Congo was resisting the officer, not fighting him.
“You never see a fist, you never see a knife, no baseball bat, no gun, no nothin’,” Ven Johnson said. “This was not a deadly force scenario. Never gave a warning: ‘Halt or I’m going to shoot you’ or other words that we can all imagine.”
Spitz said he believes the gun was pressed against Lyoya’s head when the officer fired, based on the condition of a bone in the head.
“There’s no question what killed this young man. … It was a powerful bullet,” said Spitz, holding a skull to show where the bullet entered the head.
Spitz performed the autopsy last weekend at a funeral home. The 95-year-old forensic pathologist participated in the assassination investigations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., among other high-profile cases.
“We can confirm that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of his head,” attorney Ben Crump said. “That is now scientific evidence of this tragic killing and what his family believes was an execution.”
The official autopsy report is part of the state police investigation and hasn’t been released to the public.
Lyoya’s death has outraged his family as well as many people who have watched video of the confrontation with an officer.
Crump said Lyoya could have lived until his early 80s — a “long and fruitful life.” A lawsuit hasn’t been filed, though Johnson signaled that one was in the works.
Crump has been involved in multimillion-dollar settlements between U.S. cities and the families of Black men killed by police. His legal team has argued that the costly deals should inspire police departments to change practices and improve their accountability to the public.
Lyoya, who wasn’t armed, was killed after a traffic stop in Grand Rapids in western Michigan. The officer was on top of him and can be heard on video demanding that he take his hand off a police Taser.
Earlier, the officer, is heard saying that the license plate didn’t match the car Lyoya had been driving. Lyoya declined to get back into the vehicle as ordered, and a short foot chase ensued.
Crump said it appeared to be a case of racial profiling — “driving while Black.” Video released by the Grand Rapids Police Department shows the officer’s patrol car backing out of a driveway in a residential neighborhood to follow the car for a few blocks. In Michigan, license plates aren’t on the front of vehicles.
Police spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk declined to comment.
Johnson repeated his call for police to publicly release the officer’s name, though he indicated that he knows the identity. Police Chief Eric Winstrom said he won’t release the name unless charges are filed.
“If our client shot this officer in the back of the head, you would know his name the same day,” Johnson said.
State police will give their findings to Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker for consideration of any charges. He has told the public to not expect a quick decision.
Lyoya’s funeral is planned for Friday at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids. The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said it will help cover the cost. He will deliver a eulogy.
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