A rookie police officer, Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter in Brooklyn today for the Nov. 20, 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley. The prosecution said Liang’s service weapon went off as he and his partner entered a dark stairwell where 28-year-old Gurley was walking with his girlfriend. The bullet ricocheted off of a wall and pierced Gurley’s heart.
A jury of seven men and five women reached their guilty verdict today after two days of deliberations. They reportedly asked to examine the officer’s weapon and read a copy of the police handbook.
The killing of Akai Gurley came at a time of extreme tension between the NYPD and many New Yorkers, who were outraged at the killing of another unarmed black man by a lethal chokehold. Eric Garner had become a household name only four months before. No officer was ever indicted in his killing and such indictments are extremely rare.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson concluded that the verdict in this case extends only to one officer who ignored his official training; it does not seek justice against all NYPD officers.
Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, denounced the verdict, saying it would have “a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident.”
Because Liang did not help the victim after the gun was fired, he was also found guilty of official misconduct. Melissa Butler, Gurley’s girlfriend testified as a defense witness that she had to kneel in the pool of blood and attempt CPR while the officers paused briefly and left the scene. Liang’s partner was given immunity for his testimony. The two officers claimed that they had not felt qualified enough to perform CPR, as they had too little training from the NYPD Police Academy.
Stepfather Kenneth Palmer said the trial has taken its toll on the family.
“If you fire a gun and you know you’re guilty, say ‘I’m guilty’ and that’s it,” he said. “Don’t put any family through what we’re going through.”
If the jury decides this was manslaughter in the second degree, Liang could face up to fifteen years in prison.