GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As calls from the community continue for Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Office to take over the Patrick Lyoya case, the Kent County prosecutor has said he will not recuse himself.
Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Mark Dotson clarified what is possible under state law.
“There are a couple of avenues whereby the attorney general could eventually get the case,” he told News 8.
First, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker could recuse themself over a conflict of interest, at which point Nessel’s office would step in to determine whether the shooting was justified or whether charges are warranted.
“Even if he decides not to recuse himself, the AG’s office can recuse him and articulate why they think recusal is appropriate,” Dotson said.
Dotson said the most likely reason would be due to a conflict of interest, given the close working relationship between the prosecutor’s officer and the Grand Rapids Police Department.
The local NAACP chapter has demanded Becker recuse himself, stating a fair investigation cannot occur due to the prosecutor’s work with GRPD.
“Fundamentally, there are too many conflicts of interest,” Cle Jackson, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, said during a Tuesday news conference outside the building that houses the prosecutor’s office.
Becker shut down the request and has repeatedly stated there is no conflict of interest.
“Because I do not know Officer Christopher Schurr, nor did I know Patrick Lyoya, the legal standard for recusal has not been met,” Becker said in a Tuesday statement.
Even assuming Becker keeps the case — and he says he will — Dotson said the AG’s Office could still get involved after he makes a charging decision.
“If no charges are brought or … if charges are brought, (the AG) could still come in and say that different charges should have been brought and we’re recusing you because we’re under the impression that the charges that should’ve been brought weren’t because you had a conflict of interest,” Dotson said.
Nessel has not indicated she will recuse Becker, though she said her office would take the case if asked.
JUSTIFIED OR CHARGES?
It remains to be seen whether Schurr, who shot and killed Lyoya on April 4, will face charges. At last check, Michigan State Police had not yet wrapped up its investigation. Once it does, it will send the case to the prosecutor.
Clarence Dass spent five years as the assistant prosecuting attorney at the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. He’s now a criminal defense attorney who says he has represented police officers who have been charged with crimes like willful neglect of duty.
“Anytime a police officer is charged or potentially charged with a crime, the possibilities are essentially murder, which is the highest of them all; manslaughter, where the person dies but the person didn’t necessarily intend for them to die; and then there are a slew of officer-related crimes like willful neglect of duty,” Dass explained.
In considering what, if any, charge is appropriate in Lyoya’s death, Dass said the prosecutor must decide whether the use of deadly force was justified.
“How dangerous did the officer feel the situation was? Which I think is a tough call,” Dass said. “Although the video itself I think does not lend any favorability to the officer, because it looks like the officer at least maybe acted too quickly in terms of making that split(-second) decision.”
After following news coverage of the case and watching video released by GRPD, Dass believes the officer will likely face criminal charges.
“I personally believe they will,” he said. “And again, the facts speak for themselves and we have video evidence where you don’t see … the kind of resistance that would cause a police officer to feel like his life was immediately in danger of death and that’s the standard really that you need to be to use deadly force.”
Dass acknowledged there was a long struggle between the officer and Lyoya.
“On the tape, the officer is saying, ‘Stop reaching for my Taser,’ but the question is how reasonably could that have happened if the person (Lyoya) is on the ground, face down,” he said.