Local politicians have welcomed Thursday’s conviction of a New York City police officer for fatally shooting an innocent and unarmed man – Akai Gurley – in the staircase of a Brooklyn building in November 2014.
“Justice was served tonight, but there are no winners; a verdict can never make up for the tragedy of a young life lost and two families shattered,” said Council Members Jumaane D. Williams, deputy leader, and Vanessa L. Gibson, chair of the Committee on Public Safety in a joint statement.
“Akai Gurley’s life mattered, and we thank the jury for their due diligence and commend District Attorney Ken Thompson and his team,” they added. “Peter Liang may not have intended to kill Mr. Gurley, but he acted recklessly, violated his training, and must be held accountable for his actions.
“This case was deeply personal for many New Yorkers, and we hope the verdict brings closure to them and to Mr. Gurley’s family,” Williams and Gibson continued. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Akai Gurley’s family, and the family members of all those still awaiting justice.”
“Regardless of the verdict in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, it is a somber moment for all New Yorkers, a tragedy that impacts many of our communities on a very personal level,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“I appreciate the hard work that District Attorney Thompson and the jury in this case took in the pursuit of justice, and I hope we all work equally as hard in the pursuit of healing and peace,” he added.
Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct for fatally shooting Gurley.
After recklessly firing his service weapon and striking Gurley, 28, the officer failed to immediately report the incident or render aid to the dying victim, Thompson said.
“Today’s verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed that night,” he said. “This defendant ignored official training that he received as a police officer – specifically never to put his finger on the trigger of his gun unless he was ready to shoot and his reckless actions cost Akai Gurley his life – a life that Peter Liang had sworn to protect.
“It’s also important to note that this jury’s verdict was against one officer and not against all of the brave and dedicated members of the NYPD who risk their lives every day to keep us safe,” he added.
Liang, 28, of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was convicted following a jury trial before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun.
He faces a minimum sentence of unconditional discharge and a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on April 14, 2016.
The District Attorney said that, according to trial testimony, on Nov. 20, 2014, the defendant and his partner were on foot patrol inside 2724 Linden Boulevard, a building in the Louis Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn.
At about 11:14 pm, the defendant pulled out his service revolver and pushed open a door that leads into a darkened stairwell on the 8th floor.
He fired his gun once after he heard a sound and the bullet ricocheted off a wall, striking near where Gurley was standing in the chest, as the victim entered the seventh floor landing at the same time, Thompson said.
He said the evidence established that Gurley was totally innocent and unarmed and that Officer Liang was not under any threat that should have caused him to place his finger on the trigger of his gun and fire it.
“Therefore, there was no justification for the shooting,” Thompson said. “Specifically, the evidence showed that the defendant’s actions were contrary to what he learned in the Police Academy regarding gun safety and contrary to the NYPD’s Firearms Guidelines, which instructs that “if the firearm must be drawn the trigger finger should be placed outside the trigger guard and pointed in a safe direction.”
Thompson said the defendant had to exert 11½ pounds of pressure to fire his gun, which was fitted with a trigger that required more force to operate than a regular gun to avoid an accidental discharge, according to testimony.
After the shooting, Thompson said the defendant failed to immediately report the incident, contrary to the NYPD Patrol Guide, the evidence showed.
While the victim’s friend was trying to save him by performing CPR, with the help of a neighbor who was on the phone with a 911 operator, the defendant first argued with his partner about who would radio in the incident and later failed to render any medical aid, also in violation of the Patrol Guide, Thompson said.
He “did nothing,” according to witness testimony, Thompson noted.