A rookie cop is facing more than 15 years in prison for shooting and killing an unarmed Red Hook man in an East New York public housing development.
Prosecutors charged Officer Peter Liang with manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, and official misconduct on Wednesday afternoon. Liang, having turned himself in that morning, pleaded not guilty and a judge released him without bail.
An assistant district attorney said that in patrolling with his gun out in a Louis H. Pink Houses stairwell, shooting Akai Gurley without warning, and allegedly failing to notify emergency responders or attend to Gurley for several minutes, Liang was woefully derelict in his duties.
“The defendant consciously ignored his training, and as a result Akai Gurley is dead,” prosecutor Marc Fliedner said.
Liang fired the fatal shot on Nov. 20, felling Gurley as he entered the stairwell one story below. Gurley, an occasional model and father of a two-year-old, was set to begin a job with the Housing Authority. He died later that night.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has described him as “a total innocent.” District Attorney Ken Thompson drove the point home on Wednesday.
“He had done absolutely nothing wrong,” Thompson said. “He was more than just a name that appeared in the newspapers.”
Appearing in court in a dark suit, Liang stared straight ahead, face blank, as the prosecutor read the charges. As he left the courtroom, members of Gurley’s family chanted, demanding that he be jailed.
“He ain’t even in handcuffs,” one member of the crowd yelled.
In addition to the charges relating to the shooting, prosecutors also slapped Liang with two misdemeanor counts for his alleged behavior directly after he pulled the trigger. Liang and his partnered argued for four crucial minutes before they called their supervisor, and even then failed to provide first aid, leaving Gurley for at least 10 minutes as a friend attempted to revive him, Fliedner alleged. Upon arriving on the scene ahead of an ambulance, other officers leapt into action, trying to save him, Fliender said.
The first thing Liang said after shooting Gurley, according to Fliedner, was “I’m going to be fired.”
Speaking with reporters following the arraignment, a lawyer for Liang denied that the officer had uttered those words, and defended the time that elapsed between Liang shooting and calling his boss. He said Liang’s reaction was one of a man in shock.
“Despite the spin anyone wants to put on it, this was an accident,” said Stephen Worth, Liang’s attorney. “They initially did nothing because obviously it was a shocking circumstance. He took a moment to talk to his partner and decide what to do. We’re not talking about a half hour or an hour, we’re talking about a few moments where he wanted to gather himself up and decide what to do. Obviously he didn’t stand there thinking about his job when he found out someone had been shot.”
Police protocol allows for officers to draw their weapon at their own discretion, but according to prosecutors, Liang violated procedure and all standards of safety by doing so with his finger on the trigger.
Thompson said the indictment was a result of an intensive investigation, but urged people not to see it as a condemnation of the Police Department, revenge for Gurley’s death, or a response to other recent high profile grand-jury decisions declining to indict officers who killed unarmed black men.
“There are no winners here,” Thompson said. “This had nothing to do with Ferguson, Eric Garner, or any other case.”
The indictment was welcome news to Gurley’s family, but they pledged not to rest until they see Liang behind bars.
“I want to see a conviction,” said Parise Blake, Gurley’s cousin, as she stood outside the courthouse. “We need justice.”