An independent autopsy report released Tuesday offers scientific evidence for the first time that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head, family attorneys said.
They also said that the Grand Rapids police officer who killed him may have racially profiled Lyoya, 26, when they pulled him over for a traffic stop in Grand Rapids on April 4, a case of “driving while Black,” said attorney Benjamin Crump. Police last week released a video that showed Lyoya being shot by an officer, sparking protests and drawing national attention.
At a news conference Tuesday in Detroit, Dr. Werner Spitz, a noted forensic pathologist who has been involved in several high-profile cases over the decades, said there is “no question” that Lyoya was killed with a bullet to the back of his head.
He stood 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9 and weighed 150 pounds, Spitz said.
Spitz, 95, who conducted the independent autopsy at a funeral home in Michigan, also said that there are no other injuries or wounds found on his body. Attorneys said this shows there was no fight between Lyoya and the officer. Ven Johnson, one of the family attorneys for Lyoya, said that if Lyoya had been fighting, the autopsy would have shown some other injuries on him.
“There was not really a fight,” Johnson said. “There’s no question my client was resisting arrest. … But to suggest that he engaged in a physical fight, where he’s trying to hurt the officer, never happened.”
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Spitz spoke at one point holding a skull to illustrate the bullet’s path. He also demonstrated on Crump’s head how the bullet traveled and used drawings as well.
The bullet entered at the base of Lyoya’s head, “went to the right, through the bone … but not completely because part of the bullet was still inside the skull,” Spitz said. “Part of the bullet went through the skull.”
The bullet “broke the bone,” Spitz said. “There was no other injury, from the top of the head to the big toe. No other injury.”
Spitz said a large-caliber bullet was used.
One drawing of a head illustrating the autopsy at the press conference showed the bullet entering at the base of the head slightly to the left of center and moving in a diagonal direction upwards and to the right.
During the press conference, Spitz illustrated where the bullet entered using his own head and also Crump’s head, pointing near the base of the head.
Attorneys said that Spitz’s report offers more evidence that the shooting of Lyoya was unnecessary and a case of excessive force.
Standing next to a TV screen that showed images from the video, Crump said that the officer was in “complete control” of Lyoya when he shot him.
“He has his hand on Patrick’s head … on the ground,” Crump said. “He takes his gun and puts it on his head … and he shoots into his head.”
There was no reason to shoot him, Crump argued.
“The millisecond, the nanosecond that he shoots him, he has his hand on his head pushing it into the ground,” Crump said. “He is in complete control of Patrick at this point. Both his knees have him … to the ground, where he has control of him. … Common sense will tell you, if he did not have control, you would not remove your dominant hand “and then take” his gun out with ease it seems like and then put it in the back of Patrick’s head. “
Johnson said the autopsy and their review of the case shows that Lyoya was not threatening the officer.
“He was trying to get away, and he was defending himself,” Johnson said. “He did not physically threaten the officer with his mouth or with his hands or fists.”
The Kent County Medical Examiner has also conducted an autopsy, but has not yet released the results, a county official told the Free Press on Monday.
The office gave a statement on Wednesday that said the medical examiner did their autopsy on April 4.
“The full autopsy report will be completed as soon as the toxicology and tissue test results are received, but the report will not be publicly available until the Michigan State Police concludes its investigation,” said Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle. “This is the standard operating procedure to ensure the integrity of the investigative process.”
Cohle added: “The turnaround time for these results is up to 60 days; however, we requested these results to be expedited.”
Cohle said his “office will fully cooperate with any board-certified forensic pathologist conducting an independent autopsy, if the family notifies us that they would like us to release Mr. Lyoya’s body to one of these agencies.”
During the news conference, Crump said that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met Monday with the family of Lyoya. Whitmer’s press office did not return messages from the Free Press confirming she met with the family on Monday.
The death of Lyoya, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has led to several days of peaceful protests in Grand Rapids this month. Some protesters said the shooting is part of a pattern of mistreatment of Blacks by the Grand Rapids Police Department.
The officer had asked Lyoya about his license plate, saying it did not match his car.
At the news conference, which was held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Detroit, Crump said part of the video released shows the officer did not approach Lyoya from the front, which means the license plate issue could not have been the reason for initial targeting him.
“You would notice that the police officer initially is not traveling in the same direction of Patrick,” he said. “What we see is him making a U-turn to get behind Patrick. … We have to investigate whether this is a classic DWB, Driving While Black, case, that he profiled his Black motorist and turned his car around. .. “How did he know that Patrick’s tags and registration was not valid when he’s coming from the opposite direction?”
Crump said the targeting of his client “goes to the mentality of that police officer, and it goes to the culture that was manifest in that police department.”
Johnson said they do not have all of the video yet of the incident. He also said that Spitz did not do a toxicology report because they got the body too late to get results.
In addition to Spitz, who’s been involved in cases ranging from former President John F. Kennedy to OJ Simpson, the family’s attorneys have retained Dr. Michael Baden, Johnson said.
Johnson said Lyoya’s death could have been prevented if police had acted peacefully instead of escalating the situation. At one point, the officer pulled out a Taser and there was a struggle.
“The officer, he initiated this interaction,” Johnson said. “This whole thing is wrong from so many perspectives.”
The funeral for Lyoya is set for 11 am Friday at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: email@example.com or Twitter @nwarikoo