Here we are once again, with video of a white police officer shooting a black suspect. This time, in Michigan, during a struggle and in the back of the head. Before proceeding it’s necessary to say that I completely and wholeheartedly support our men and women in law enforcement around the country. Over the last three decades, I have trained police officers in self-defense. But at the end of the day, nothing is more important than the truth.
I have watched the video(s) a dozen times. One was taken from the officer’s body camera but supposedly shut off during the confrontation. The other footage taken by a bystander, possibly a friend who was in Lyoya’s car. It’s important because in the world of social media, so much of what happens is caught on video. While it can be a little overwhelming at times, it allows us the ability to see with our own eyes, the way a tragedy like this plays out. It was instrumental in obtaining a conviction of officer Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd murder. Eyes don’t lie even though there are some who would try to convince people that perhaps they do. Like the man who gets caught in bed with another woman by his wife and says, “who are you going to believe, me, or your eyes?”
In the video, we see Patrick Lyoya pulled over for a violation that was supposedly due to plates that didn’t match the tags of the automobile. It means either the plates were taken off another car, which is illegal, or the car is stolen. That’s a legitimate reason for pulling over any driver. At that point, the officer commands him to stay in his car but he doesn’t obey that command and gets out of his car. BTW – that’s the reason officers tell you to stay in your car. Less of a chance of a physical confrontation, (which is the goal) unless the person pulled over is looking for a confrontation. He then asks to see his driver’s license. It doesn’t appear at first that he understands the officer’s request, so the officer asks him if he understands English. He responds that he does, and the officer again asks for his license. Lyoya says it’s in his car and opens the door and then does nothing, which is quite strange. This is when the situation quickly escalates, and you see Lyoya starting to resist. Left or right, this is an admission of guilt of something, or he doesn’t have a license. There is no other way to spin this unless you want to. He then attempts to grab the officer’s taser and gets away, with the officer in pursuit. They go to the ground and the officer gets on top of him. At the end of the video the officer is yelling, “stop resisting” and Lyoya responds “I’m not resisting.” You can then hear the officer scream “let go of the taser, let go of the taser”. The person taking the video yells, “he’s not resisting”. It’s at this point, the officer draws his sidearm and shoots Lyoya in the back of the head.
At first glance, this appears to be an open and shut case. Officer shoots suspect in the back of the head, murder, case closed. That would need to be the tact of the prosecution. An officer cannot use deadly force in this situation. But it will not be presented that way by the defense team, should the officer be indicted. They will testify that the suspect resisted the officer almost from the onset. He clearly would not put his hands behind his back and did grab the officer’s taser. He wrestled with him on the ground and when the officer was unable to subdue him or get cuffs on him, he started to tire, thereby putting the officer’s life in danger, if he lost control of the situation. He was overmatched physically and as a last resort, pulled his sidearm and fired one shot.
The district attorney and police will portray Lyoya as a bad guy. For complete transparency, we do need to know why the plates didn’t match the car. According to police records, Lyoya has been arrested three times for some involvement with stolen vehicles and pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in all three cases. If the car was stolen, it proves he wasn’t targeted for no other reason than the color of his skin. In the video he’s not a sympathetic figure, which is how most people felt about Floyd. An attorney could certainly present it that way. Whether the officer is indicted, remains to be seen.
Consider this a teaching moment. If you’re ever pulled over by law enforcement, don’t antagonize the officer. Open your window and keep both hands on the steering wheel. If you need to get your license and registration out of you pants, pocketbook, or glove compartment, ask for permission. I know there are heroes out there that want to defend the Constitution, justice, and the American way but at the end of the day, it’s for the safety of both you and the officer. Not to mention the fact that you just want to go home or to wherever it was you were going. They have a job to do and most just want to issue the ticket or will sometimes let you go with only a warning if you handle the situation properly. You can present the law and the facts all you want but they can take you to jail if you become uncooperative.
One final and crucial point, police officers in most precincts around the country are not being taught proper self-defense, which is why they’re so quick to unholster their weapons. They’re scared, plain and simple. They want to go home to their loved ones. Often, they are overmatched in firepower. However, I can unequivocally state that if any of our Niseido Ju Jitsu law enforcement students or instructors were in that same situation, Lyoya would have been cuffed and sitting in the back of the patrol car in under a minute. That’s because they’ve been trained in non-lethal as well as lethal self-defense. When you believe in your ability and training, no need to pull a sidearm except in the direst situations. There are so many options to subdue a suspect. BTW, choke holds are a very legitimate self-defense technique that’s been banned in most if not all police departments around the country because it’s been used by untrained officers who didn’t understand how to use it. It is absolutely non-lethal in trained hands but can make a violent person much more likely to comply. Be that as it may, there are many other ways to accomplish this task.
No one knows how the DA will proceed in this case. It could go either way. I do believe most people in law enforcement and even citizens who see the video, will conclude that up until the moment the officer pulls his weapon, and fires into the back of Lyoya’s head, he acted appropriately. Lyola was clearly not cooperating with the officer. But did that justify the use of deadly force?