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‘Going to take a lot of hard work’ to earn back trust of Black community, GRPD leader says

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Eleven days after the killing of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, and two days after graphic video of the incident was made public, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom is addressing the killing once again with FOX 17.

“I didn’t expect it to happen … certainly didn’t expect it to happen a few weeks into my tenure here,” said Winstrom. “Even in a town as safe as Grand Rapids and as peaceful, it can happen.”

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In Wednesday’s public presentation of four separate video angles of the shooting, Winstrom called the event a “tragedy.”

The clearest video, taken by a bystander on a cell phone, appears to show the GRPD officer and Lyoya struggling over a Taser, which the officer tells him to drop several times. Lyoya, barefoot and on his stomach, is then shot in the head moments later by that officer.

The other videos shown Wednesday during the presentation were from a Ring doorbell camera across the street, the officer’s dash cam and the officer’s body camera, which shut off before the fatal shot was fired. Winstrom said it was deactivated when it was bumped off during the struggle.

Winstrom also said the Tasers issued to officers, provided by Axon, carry two cartridges, which were both fired and used up during the struggle. But those Tasers also come with a close-up stun gun feature that he says still could’ve posed a threat to the officer.

“Tasers are not a deadly weapon per se; they call them an intermediate weapon, which means that it can be deadly under certain circumstances,” said Winstrom.

Though some parts of the videos were blurred, like Lyoya’s license plate and the faces of bystanders, the officer’s face remained unblurred. His identity is still a mystery, and likely will be officially until an MSP and Kent County Prosecutor investigation wraps up. Winstrom has been disturbed recently by instances of the public posting the names and addresses of several officers people believe to be the one who killed Lyoya.

READ MORE: Experts warn of risks of ‘doxing’ as online sleuths try to identify GRPD officer involved in shooting

“I am concerned about safety of officers,” he said. “We said we’re not naming this officer. I know there’s been several names floated out there; there’s been different addresses that we’ve heard, and that is a real safety issue. But we’re sticking to this policy, and again, I hope this is the only police shooting I ever have to deal with in Grand Rapids, but if it happens again, I’m going to have the same policy.”

Winstrom said even if criminal charges aren’t filed against the officer, it’s likely their name will be made public in any anticipated civil suits to come.

Police reports state that Lyoya was stopped because his plates didn’t match the car he was driving. Winstrom explained that the department uses automatic license plate readers that scan a plate and rapidly return information on the vehicle. However, the videos appear to start after that process, only showing the officer pull up behind Lyoya and immediately conducting that traffic stop.

After two nights of peaceful protest following the release of the videos, GRPD is now bracing for a busy weekend in downtown Grand Rapids. Winstrom said officers have been working long hours as is, and with a Griffins hockey game Friday night, along with a planned protest and Kid Rock concert on Saturday night, he’s still expecting to have each event adequately covered.

“We’re planning for a peaceful weekend,” he said. “We’ve had two nights of protesting, have not had one arrest, haven’t have any incidences of criminal damage to property or violence or anything like that. So, it’s been successful; people want their voices to be heard. We embrace that.”

As for building stronger ties with a Black community that has a deep mistrust of police in Grand Rapids, Winstrom said he knows the department has a long way to go.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work on behalf of the police department and it’s going to take a lot of communication,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Racism is a public health crisis’: MSU medical students protest fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya

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