Kalamazoo, MI – Progressive Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has declared she believes her office would be “best suited” to take over the investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting death of Patrick Lyoya because of her lack of “one-on-one” relationships with law enforcement.
Although her office is not currently involved in the investigation, Nessel hinted that there could potentially be integrity issues with local prosecutors due to their closer working relationships with police.
“We don’t have those kinds of relationships where we have to work one-on-one with local police officers,” Nessel told WZZM on Wednesday. “Not just that we can be more impartial, but from the standpoint of the public, I think it just looks terrible when you have a prosecutor who has some sort of direct contact and relationship with that police officer.”
She said the optics of such situation are “not good.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust [Kent County] Prosecutor Becker,” the state attorney general continued. “I assume that he’s going do the right thing, and will follow the facts and the evidence and the law. But just that our department is often better situated for those reasons.”
Nessel conceded she does not have the power to tell the Michigan State Police (MSP), who are investigating the officer-involved shooting, where to refer their case once it is wrapped up, WZZM reported.
Nessel, a staunch supporter of Bernie Sanders, worked a U.S. attorney for western Michigan under former President Barak Obama prior to taking office, the Detroit Metro Times reported.
The progressive attorney gained the Democrats’ endorsement after she successfully forged a coalition of various leftist groups, marijuana supporters, and progressive activists, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Nessel was also touted as the first openly gay candidate to run for a state office, according to the paper.
“I think the Democratic Party was ready for a more unconventional candidate and race,” she said after securing the endorsement. “I was really excited to get so many new members signed up. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the party in a way that we haven’t seen it for a while.”
Nessel said she is continuing to push for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to be given oversight abilities, WZZM reported.
She said her office is also willing to help the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in its investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), according to the Detroit Free Press.
“The Department of Attorney General is meeting with the Department of Civil Rights since their outreach last week regarding their ongoing investigation into the Grand Rapids Police Department,” her spokesperson, Lynsey Mukomel, said in a statement to the news outlet.
“The Attorney General is committed to putting the full resources of her office behind this effort,” Mukomel added.
The series of events leading up to Lyoya’s death began at approximately 8:11 a.m. on April 4, when a seven-year veteran of the GRPD spotted a vehicle traveling westbound on Griggs Street with for a Michigan license plate which didn’t match the car, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said during a press conference on April 13.
The officer followed the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop on Nelson Avenue Southeast near Griggs Street Southeast.
Bodycam and dashcam footage showed the driver, later identified as Lyoya, as he immediately exited the vehicle after being pulled over.
The officer ordered him to stay in the car, but Lyoya ignored him.
The officer explained the reason for the stop and asked Lyoya for his driver’s license several times before the suspect opened the driver’s door and spoke briefly with a passenger inside the vehicle, the videos showed.
The officer told Lyoya that the plate on the vehicle he was driving belonged on another vehicle, bodycam footage showed.
“The plate doesn’t belong on this car,” the officer said twice.
Lyoya did not respond.
A moment later, Lyoya closed the door and started walking around the front of the car, at which point the officer stopped him as he tried to pull away.
Lyoya took off running during the ensuing confrontation, heading around the back end of the suspect vehicle before the officer tackled him on the lawn of a nearby home, the videos showed.
The lone officer repeatedly ordered the suspect to put his hands behind his back and to stop resisting, but Lyoya did not comply.
Chief Winstrom said the officer deployed his Taser twice during the struggle, but that the barbs went into the ground both times.
The officer repeatedly ordered Lyoya to stop resisting and to “let go of the Taser,” the video showed.
Chief Winstrom said it appeared that the officer and the suspect both had a grip on the weapon for approximately 90 seconds as the fight continued.
Cellphone footage recorded by the passenger in Lyoya’s car showed the officer trying to keep the combative suspect on the ground during the brawl.
“Let go of the Taser! Drop the Taser!” the officer yelled multiple times.
The suspect and the officer were both on the ground fighting over the weapon when the officer drew his duty weapon, the video showed.
He fired a single round, striking Lyoya in the head, Chief Winstrom said.
Questions remain regarding whether the vehicle Lyoya was driving at the time of the traffic stop was stolen.
The Police Tribune reached out to the MSP and the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) for confirmation on the status of the vehicle.
MSP Sixth District Public Information Officer Lieutenant Michelle Robinson told The Police Tribune on Wednesday morning that the department will not release any additional information about the case at this time.
“We are not releasing any additional information as it remains an active, ongoing investigation,” Lt. Robinson said. “We will do a thorough investigation that will be given to the prosecutor once completed. I do not have a time line of when that will be.”
The GRPOA did not immediately respond to The Police Tribune’s request.
Lyoya’s Michigan criminal history shows he was arrested three times on felony possession of stolen vehicles offenses in the past.
Each of those charges were ultimately pleaded down to misdemeanors, with his longest jail sentence running just 181 days.
The Kentwood Police Department (KPD) arrested Lyoya for assaulting a pregnant woman on April 4, 2017.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence and was sentenced to one year on probation and $545 in fines and fees for that offense.
Lyoya was also charged with driving while intoxicated on at least three occasions, including one instance where he had a passenger in the vehicle who was under the age of 16.
He was charged with driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license at least twice.
Lyoya’s criminal history also includes at least two incidents in which the GRPD requested warrants for his arrest for several offenses, to include a charge of obstruction.
The status of the warrants is unclear.