After their sons were killed by police in Michigan, families march for justice, reform

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Lansing — The families of people killed by police officers in Michigan joined civil rights attorneys, activists and community leaders at the state Capitol on Friday to call for police reform and demand officers face the full legal consequences in the killings of Samuel Sterling, Riley Doggett and Patrick Lyoya.

"What is so profound about all these tragedies, where these young men's lives were taken far too soon, was that all of these young men — Samuel Sterling, Riley Doggett, Patrick Lyoya — they were all unarmed at the time they were murdered by the police," civil rights attorney Ben Crump said. "Each and every one of them. And thank God ... each and every one of them were captured on video."

Lyoya was killed in 2022 by then-Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr, who shot him in the back of a head as the pair wrestled on the ground. Schurr was charged with second-degree murder but has not been to trial.

Sterling and Doggett were killed in separate instances that took place in April this year. In each, officers hit them with their police vehicles. They both died from their injuries, Sterling on April 17 and Doggett on May 9. Both were on foot at the time of the incidents.

The families of Samuel Sterling, Riley Doggett and Patrick Lyoya were joined by civil rights attorneys and activists on Friday, June 7, 2024 in Lansing to call for police reform and for the prosecution of the police officers who killed the three west Michigan residents.

Brian Keely, the Michigan State Police detective sergeant who used his unmarked police SUV to pin Sterling against the wall of a fast-food restaurant on April 17, has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Attorney General Dana Nessel said Keely's actions were "legally, grossly negligent and created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm, which could have otherwise been prevented." No charges have been filed in Doggett incident.

"There's something that is so sickening about the fact that you would use your police cruiser as a deadly weapon on people who are posing no threat to you, no harm to you," Crump said. "They're running away from you, and you're going to run over them with your police cruiser? You wouldn't even run over a dog like that."

Supporters crowded the steps of the Capitol on Friday, holding signs in support of Sterling, Doggett and Lyoya. They called for statewide reforms that would ensure the timely release of dash and body cam footage of police violence, require public records are made available and other measures. They ended the event with a march around the Capitol lawn calling for justice for Lyoya, Sterling and Doggett.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Hill Harper spoke in support of the families, as did Detroit attorney Ven Johnson, former Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack and others.

They called on Nessel to charge Kent County Sheriff's Deputy Josiah McMains, who hit Doggett, a 17-year-old from Wyoming, Michigan, with his police cruiser following a high-speed chase in Kent County on April 8. Doggett was hospitalized and died of his injuries a month later.

Doggett had been the passenger in a vehicle that police suspected was stolen, according to a report by the Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker's office. The driver led McMains and other officers on an erratic chase through Holland and Kent County before crashing the car in a parking lot. Both the driver and Doggett then fled on foot.

McMains told investigators he believed Doggett to be armed, but what the teen held was a cell phone. McMains said he had attempted to drive in front of Doggett to block his path.

shows the officer drive over curbs to follow close behind the teen, then come around Doggett, before hitting the teen with his vehicle. Doggett is shown dropping quickly and forcefully to the ground. The vehicle lurches as it stops.

"As the cruiser passed Riley (Doggett), he began to turn and Riley was struck by the side of the cruiser and immediately and violently fell on the concrete," the prosecutor's office said in its report about the incident.

Becker did not charge McMains with a crime, saying McMains "acted within the scope of his duties and in accordance with the law." McMains has returned to work as a deputy at the Kent County Sheriff's Office, public information officer Sgt. Kailey Gilbert said.

Doggett's mother, Becky Wilbert, said she wants McMains charged with a crime. From the podium, she asked Nessel to review the case. Her son was the passenger in the vehicle, never charged with a crime and was treated violently even after McMains struck him with the police vehicle, she said.

"That's inhumane," Wilbert said. "We wouldn't do that to anybody else, so why would you do it to my son? ... Riley had a bright future ahead of him. He had siblings that love him. He had nephews that adored him. It's just not fair. It's not fair that this man chose to run him over, and he says nothing, he shows no remorse."

Charges aren't the end of the road to justice, said people who rallied Friday.

Despite the criminal charges against a state trooper, Sterling's mother Andrica Cage said Keely isn't being treated like a murder suspect. She recounted an experience in a Kentwood District Court room this week that was packed with Keely's supporters. Keely walked in and out of the room without handcuffs or the obvious supervision of a bailiff or officer, Cage said, and he was released on a personal recognizance bond.

"He might have gotten charged as a criminal, but he did not get treated as one," Cage said. "And that really just blew me (away). It disappointed me. It let me know that this system is corrupt."

The judge said at the arraignment that the 26-year trooper had , Fox 2 News Detroit reported.

Cage and the attorneys and activists who spoke reminded those gathered that they would continue to advocate for Keely's conviction. They also advocated for police reform bills they said they are drafting with state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.

"Until we get justice, until we change the laws, it's going to always be the same," Cage said. "You're all either against us or you're all with us. I'm just going to let you all know, this pain that I got, it’s never going to be the same. I watched my son die. I had to bury my son. That officer gets to go home to his kids."

Peter Lyoya, the father of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop in 2022, also took to the microphone Friday. He said he wants the world to know there is no justice in America, since the officer who shot his son can "delay, delay, delay" his day in court.

The officer, Schurr, faces a murder charge in Kent County. His attorney has argued Schurr is protected by a rule that allows police to use deadly force on someone who is fleeing and believed to have committed a felony.

Michigan's appeals court ruled in January that Schurr could stand trial in the shooting. The panel of judges determined there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that Schurr's actions did not meet the standard for deadly force in self-defense.

A video of the incident shows Schurr telling Lyoya he had pulled him over because his license plate didn't match the vehicle. Crump said Friday it was an obvious case of "driving while Black," referring to racial profiling of Black drivers.

Schurr asked for Lyoya's driver's license. Lyoya stood with the car door open, then closed it, video shows. Then Schurr tried to get Lyoya on the hood of the car. Lyoya broke free, then the pair struggled on the grass nearby.

Video appears to show Lyoya pushing Schurr's stun gun away. Another video angle shows the pair wrestling until Schurr, while on top of Lyoya, drew his weapon and shot at the back of Lyoya's head.