A world-renowned forensic pathologist was tapped to conduct an independent autopsy of Patrick Lyoya, the 26-year-old Black man who was fatally shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids police officer after a traffic stop earlier this month.
The autopsy was performed by Dr. Werner Spitz, a 95-year-old self-described “medical detective” from Michigan who has played a role in many famous investigations over the years, including those of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Casey Anthony, and JonBenét Ramsey, among others.
Spitz revealed the results of the autopsy at a press conference at Detroit’s Westin Book Cadillac hotel on Tuesday alongside attorneys Ben Crump and Ven Johnson, who are representing Lyoya’s family.
At one point, Spitz held an actual human skull during the press conference, which he had drilled a hole through to show how Lyoya was killed. He said his forensic recreation of the trajectory of the bullet showed it went through the back of Lyoya’s skull and came through the front, but got lodged under his skin above his right eye.
“There was no complete exit,” Spitz said. “There was only an exit from the skull, but not an exit from the head.”
Spitz said he observed no other injuries on Loyoya’s body.
He added, “There is no question what killed this young man.”
Crump said the investigation was significant because the Grand Rapids Police Department would not initially say whether Lyoya was shot in the back of his head.
“Today, based on scientific evidence, we can confirm that Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of his head,” he said.
Spitz conducted the autopsy at the Grand Rapids funeral home where Lyoya’s body was stored. Johnson said it is typical for independent autopsies to be conducted at funeral homes. Spitz conducted the autopsy on Saturday, and said it took about two hours to complete. Lyoya’s funeral is scheduled for Friday.
He did not conduct a toxicology test to see whether drugs were in Lyoya’s body because by the time Spitz got access, it was too late to perform such a test, though Johnson said the results of a separate toxicology report are pending.
According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, at the time of his death, Lyoya was on probation for a Dec. 12, 2020 offense for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He was sentenced April 23, 2021.
Lyoya and his family had relocated to Grand Rapids in 2014, part of a growing number of refugees fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was pulled over by a Grand Rapids police officer at 8:11 a.m. on April 4 over an unregistered license plate.
The officer, who has not yet been named, was shown on video telling Lyoya to get back in his car. When Lyoya did not comply, the officer tried to grab him, and when Lyoya tried to flee the officer tackled him and tried to deploy a stun gun. A struggle ensued.
At some point during the tussle, the officer’s bodycam was turned off. The Grand Rapids Police Department said the device was deactivated just before the cop pulled the trigger.
Johnson said they are asking for the police department to release the bodycam footage as part of a civil lawsuit. He expressed skepticism that the bodycam could accidentally be turned off during the fight, saying the button needs to be held down for three full seconds in order to do so.
The police department has not yet released the bodycam footage. However, a bystander caught a video of the officer shooting Lyoya in the back of the head while pinned face-down on the ground.
Johnson said he believes the combination of the autopsy and video footage released so far shows that Lyoya neither fought nor threatened the officer.
“He wasn’t fighting. What he was ultimately doing was trying to defend himself and push the officer away from him. But if you notice, you never see a fist, you never see a knife, no baseball bat, no gun, no nothing,” he said, calling the officer’s actions “an unnecessary use of deadly force.”
Crump added that the video released starts with the officer doing a U-turn, suggesting the officer was driving in the opposite direction of Lyoya, and turned around to get behind Lyoya’s car to inspect his registration on his rear license plate.
“We have to investigate whether this is a classic ‘D.W.B.’ case, a ‘Driving While Black’ case,” he said.
“How did [the officer] know that Patrick’s tag registration wasn’t valid, when he’s coming from the opposite direction?” Crump added. “These are things that attorney Johnson and I want to investigate intensely, because it goes to the mentality of that police officer, and it goes to the culture that was manifest in that police department, at least as it pertained to this particular officer in these instances.”
Johnson said he believes he knows the identity of the officer, but Crump said they are waiting for the police department to release his name. He said he believes it is a double standard that if one of his clients killed a police officer, the police would release the name immediately.
Lyoya’s family is asking for the police officer to be fired.
“I call it an execution because I believe that it was so unnecessary,” Crump said.
“It’s just another senseless killing of an unarmed Black person in America by the very individual who was supposed to protect him,” he said.
This story was updated to include information about Lyoya’s probation status.
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