By Steve Pomper
I’ve said it before, and now I’ll state it upfront. I’ll always give the benefit of the doubt to the officer until there is solid evidence not to. Many civilians, cop critics, and, of course, cop-haters will condemn the cop regardless of the circumstances. As I’ve also said before, if I do hit one of those “hold up…” moments that cause me to hesitate, I’ll move on to the next story. Not our job here to criticize cops.
It’s not that people can’t or shouldn’t criticize cops, but there are more than enough critics and haters for that. The difference is, if I hit that “hold up…” moment for the incident, I’ll move along. In this case, here’s one retired cop’s perspective, giving the officer the benefit of the doubt, he deserves.
But critics have difficulty ever giving cops the benefit of the doubt because they don’t know the job. And the haters will give the benefit of the doubt—to the suspect. They never seem to hit that “hold up…” moment for any suspects’ actions, no matter what they do or how valid the officers’ uses of force were.
So, that brings us to a controversial incident (that shouldn’t be) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The nutshell version is familiar:
The officer makes a traffic stop. The suspect refuses to comply, resists the officer, and runs. The officer tackles the suspect, who continues to resist. The officer attempts to use his Taser, but the suspect grabs the Taser in the officer’s hand and won’t let go. The suspect continues to resist, still refusing to release the Taser. The exhausted officer draws his gun and shoots the suspect in the head.
If that’s all I knew, even without the details, I’m giving the officer the benefit of the doubt for so many reasons cops know, but people who haven’t rolled around on the ground with a suspect don’t. Then, when I read the details, I continued to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. But to make sure I didn’t hit that “hold up…” moment, I watched the significant amount of video evidence.
In this case, there are four videos. In-car, body-worn, doorbell, and passenger videos of various portions or all of the event. After watching them, I’m no longer giving the officer the benefit of the doubt. There’s no doubt in my mind the officer acted lawfully based on what I saw and read. Could evidence arise that changes my mind? Anything’s possible, but it’s not likely.
And that’s not saying I or any other officer would have done the same thing. It’s saying, based on training and experience, it appears the officer performed his duties properly and in good faith. The result was tragic, yes. But the suspect, not the officer, set the tragedy in motion with his actions.
Once again, the left is making a big deal of the incident because the suspect happened to be black and the cop white. However, a second black male in the suspect’s car, before he gets out to video record the incident with his cell phone, was totally cooperative and was not harmed during the same incident.
Here are some observations based on the four videos released by investigators, as shown by the Detroit Free Press, and on written coverage by PBS News Hour.
The Grand Rapids police officer conducts a traffic stop on a man, later identified as Patrick Lyoya, driving a car with license plates belonging on another vehicle. Officers must consider why a driver would put plates from one car on another. Could there be an innocent explanation? Yes, but that’s not the one cops are worried about.
The officer stops Lyoya who also has a male passenger in his car. The driver immediately gets out of his car. The officer must wonder why? Is Lyoya planning to assault the officer? Is there something in the car he doesn’t want the officer to see?
The plate switch may be innocent, but that’s not what the officer is concerned about. The officer must be ready for it not being innocent. An officer can’t bet his or her life that it’s probably okay. Criminals often use stolen plates on a car to commit crimes.
The officer tells the Lyoya five times to stay in his car. His noncompliance begins immediately. But the officer continues the traffic stop investigation professionally, treating the man with respect.
The officer explains the license plate issue, but Lyoya keeps asking, in accented English, “what did I do?” The officer asks if he speaks English. He says, “yes.”
The driver decides to make himself a criminal suspect by walking away from the officer. The officer grabs him and says, “Stop!” three times. The suspect runs. The officer must ask why he’s running from a simple traffic stop?
The officer chases and tackles him in the front yard of a home in this residential neighborhood. It’s raining, making getting a grip on the suspect that much harder.
Lyoya continues to resist. The officer tells him “get your hands behind your back.” He says, “okay,” but doesn’t comply and continues to resist. The officer very clearly articulates, “Stop resisting.” Lyoya again says, “okay,” but continues resisting.
On their feet again, Lyoya still resisting, they struggle to another part of the yard. On the officer’s body cam video, the officer can be seen drawing his taser and deploying it at the suspect. The suspect deflects the taser with his hand and then grabs it. The darts miss him.
The officer yells, “Let go of the taser” and “Drop the taser.” His bodycam then deactivates during the violent struggle.
Next, the doorbell video from a house across the street shows the entire encounter, but from a distance. Still, it adds some aspects missing in the other videos. And it shows the officer in a fight for his life from when the suspect initially resists up to the shooting.
The passenger’s cell phone video is not great but confirms the resisting arrest that forced the officer to shoot the suspect to stop his getting control of the taser. Lyoya died at the scene from a gunshot to the head.
It’s clear throughout, as the suspect escalated the incident, the officer attempted to de-escalate. It’s also clear the officer progressed through the use-of-force continuum, using voice commands, going hands-on, then deploying his taser, and, finally, exhausted from the fight, with the suspect still resisting and attempting to get his taser, using lethal force.
There are many issues an officer must consider, but let’s cover the obvious (to cops it is) first:
Does anyone want to guess what that suspect would have done with the taser if he’d wrestled it from the officer? Perhaps, use it on the officer and then take the officer’s gun. And what would he have done with the gun? Maybe shoot the officer? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Other things to consider: Why did the suspect immediately jump out of his car? This is not normal behavior. But, after he did, why didn’t he get back in as told? Did he plan on attacking the officer, which is easier out of the car than from inside? Or was there something in the car he didn’t want the officer to see? Something about the passenger, maybe?
Why did the suspect run? Once he resisted the officer and ran, he turned a simple traffic stop into a resisting arrest, obstructing an officer, and then upped it to a felony by allegedly assaulting the officer and attempting to take his taser.
The officer has to consider he’s alone, and there’s still a passenger in the Lyoya’s car. Is the passenger armed? Will the passenger come to the driver’s aid? Also, he still hasn’t patted down Lyoya, who could be armed. The next-door neighbor comes out of his house and stands in his driveway. Is he a threat? He’s not helping the officer, so he’s sure not friendly.
When the officer can finally get on the radio, he is extremely out of breath. For anyone who’s never fought with a suspect who’s serious about not going to jail, it is physically draining, especially when the suspect grabs one of your weapons.
Also, was the suspect under the influence of any mind-altering, strength-enhancing substance? PBS reported, “Kent County’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Cohle, said he completed the autopsy, but toxicology tests haven’t been finished.” Suspects affected by Excited Delirium, as explained by the NPA’s Chief Joel F. Shults, often exhibit similar behavior.
The second-guessing and ignorant cries that the officer “executed” the suspect or is a “murderer” are in full swing. But, again, there’s nothing anyone can tell them. Cop critics may speak while not knowing what it’s like to be a cop in that situation. But cop-haters speak while not caring about what it’s like to be a cop in that situation.
Fortunately, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom, previously a commander with the Chicago Police Department, gave a proper and measured response, and is waiting for an investigation to be concluded before making any conclusive statements.
Of the incident, Chief Winstrom said, “From my view of the video, Taser was deployed twice. Taser did not make contact.” This shows the officer was obviously trying to gain control of the suspect without using lethal force.
Winstrom continued, “We do not draw conclusions about whether the involved officer acted consistent with the law, our policies, and our training until all the facts are known and the entire investigation is complete.”
However, Windstrom agreed to release the video evidence to the public. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker “objected to the release, but… said Chief Winstrom ‘could act on his own.’”
To the critics I’ll say the videos do not show probable cause that the officer committed a crime. They just don’t.
While video evidence is normally not as strong as having four views of a single incident, Becker said not to expect a quick decision. He said, “While the videos released today are an important piece of evidence, they are not all of the evidence.”
Sadly, but not surprisingly, because Lyoya happens to be black and the officer white, Grand Rapids’ business owners have reflexively boarded up their properties and the police surrounded their HQ with concrete barricades.
And then there’s Democrat Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, “who spoke to the [Lyoya] family.” There was no mention of her speaking with the officer. To no one’s surprise, it appears she’s siding with the suspect over the cop.
She said, “He [Lyoya] arrived in the United States as a refugee with his family fleeing violence. He had his whole life ahead of him.”
Of course, Lyoya’s family will be understandably distraught and will grieve over their loved ones’ death. But Lyoya didn’t just wake up that morning, a previously law-abiding person, and decide to drive a car with plates belonging to another vehicle, run away from a cop on a traffic stop, resist arrest, fight the cop, and then attempt to take the cop’s taser.
There’s no mention of Gov. Whitmer expressing any concerns for the traumatic event the officer went through, and now has to live with, for putting his life on the line for his Michigan community.
Well, governor, now, Lyoya, instead of fleeing violence, appears to have been committing violence and fleeing the police.
Every officer safety concern mentioned in this piece (and more) likely zipped, zigged, and zagged through the officer’s mind at warp speed, during the incident, working to keep him alive.
Chief Winstrom has placed the unnamed officer on paid administrative leave, which is customary.
The Michigan State Police are handling the investigation.
Writer’s note: I have made edits to the original article based on a correction submitted by an alert reader. I regret the error and apologize to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker for my mistaken interpretation of the information based on a typo I’d made in an early draft. Prosecutor Becker did not object to the release of the officer but to the release of the video evidence.