By Peter Nickeas, CNN
Michigan state officials have asked the US Justice Department to launch a ‘model or practice’ investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department after an officer fatally shot a man during a physical struggle following a traffic stop.
A Grand Rapids Department officer shot 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya on April 4 after arresting him for an allegedly unregistered license plate. After Lyoya appeared to begin to pull away from the officer, the officer chased after Lyoya, and the two ended up physically struggling on the ground, where the officer shot Lyoya. He was unarmed at the time of the shooting, according to a family attorney. The officer who shot Lyoya is heard saying “drop the Taser” before firing the fatal shot.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR), the state agency that asked the DOJ to investigate Grand Rapids police, had made similar requests in the past, a spokesperson said Wednesday. at CNN. An official from that office renewed that request with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan on April 7, days after the shooting and before it received significant media attention.
The same state agency also asked the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to “cooperate” with the investigation, and officials met with Nessel and others from the office on Monday, said Vicki Levengood, a spokesperson. word of the MDCR.
“At some point in late 2019 or into 2020, we first reached out to both agencies in hopes of discussing options for collaborative investigations or assistance in investigating this pattern and issue of practical,” Levengood said. “There were periodic conversations along the way.”
These earlier requests were the result of two public “listening sessions” in 2019, during which members of the public were told they could file complaints with the state agency if they believed they had been discriminated against. , said Levengood. Subsequent complaints allege a variety of wrongdoing, Levengood said, “from racial profiling in traffic stops to excessive force used against people of color and minors.”
“Currently, in total, we have received 60 complaints of discrimination, (and) have 29 currently under active investigation,” she said. The agency is responsible for statewide civil rights complaints. “It became clear to us that an investigation of this problem of model and practice, something of this size and scope, required resources beyond what we have.”
A spokesperson for the Grand Rapids Police Department said Police Chief Eric Winstrom, a new recruit to the department, “welcomes feedback.”
“One of his top priorities was and continues to be a thorough review of all department policies, procedures and training,” police spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk told CNN. “He welcomes input into this process from the community and other external sources.”
Local media outlets WWMT News Channel 3 and Detroit News reported the request on Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan confirmed in a statement Wednesday that it had “received a request from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) to initiate an investigation into a pattern or practice of investigating the Grand Rapids Police Department”.
“Consistent with standard practice, the department considers all information provided by state agencies, including the MDCR, as well as any additional information, in determining whether to initiate an investigation into the patterns or practice.”
Lynsey Mukomel, Nessel’s press secretary, told CNN, “The Attorney General is committed to putting all of his office’s resources behind this effort.”
“The Department of the Attorney General has been meeting with the Civil Rights Department since their outreach last week regarding their ongoing investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department.”
Since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, states have undertaken more investigations into police departments that have traditionally been run by federal officials.
Surveys of police service patterns or practices are relatively rare and carried out by investigators to determine whether services have patterns of racist, discriminatory or otherwise problematic behavior, with the aim of reviewing the way these services operate.
Last week, amid national media attention and following the hiring of a high profile attorney by the Lyoya family, the police department released several video clips that show Lyoya’s encounter with the officer who shot it.
The officer is on paid leave and his police powers have been suspended, Winstrom said. The officer will not be publicly identified unless there are criminal charges, Winstrom said last week.
An autopsy commissioned by Lyoya’s family shows he was shot in the back of the neck.
An official death certificate, stating the cause and circumstances of Lyoya’s death, has yet to be released. The report has been prepared, Kent County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen D. Cohle said in a statement last week, but it will not be completed until toxicology and tissue test results are available. have not been received from a contracted laboratory.
Several hundred people demonstrated after the video was released, many chanting “Justice for Patrick”. Lyoya’s family demanded that the officer be prosecuted.
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