Former New York City Police Officer Peter Liang has been convicted of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct for the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in the stairwell of a Brooklyn building in November, 2014.
According to trial testimony, Liang, a 28-year-old Bensonhurst resident, was on foot patrol inside one of East New York’s Louis Pink Houses when he fired his gun into a darkened stairwell, striking 28-year-old Gurley in the chest.
According to District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office, evidence eventually established that the victim was both innocent and unarmed and that Liang was not under any threat that should have caused him to administer his weapon.
Furthermore, evidence showed that, after the shooting, Liang failed to report the incident immediately, contrary to the NYPD Patrol Guide. Instead, while the victim’s friend was performing CPR on Gurley, the defendant 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.
“Today’s verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed that night,” said Thompson. “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.”
Politicians and activists across the borough weighed in on the verdict.
“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 Councilmembers Jumaane Williams in a joint statement with colleague Vanessa Gibson. “Akai Gurley’s life mattered and we thank the jury for their due diligence and commend District Attorney Ken Thompson and his team. 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.”
The Asian Community United Society, however, accused the verdict of being politically motivated.
“There was no true justice involved in this trial and everything was all politics,” said the group in a statement. “We can clearly see that the reason Officer Liang was convicted is to satisfy the roaring anger by the black community in our city. The true intent of this trial is for the city of New York to find a suitable scapegoat to feed the current anger of the black community toward the NYPD.”
There was a huge outcry after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, in the death of Eric Garner on July 17, 2013. Pantaleo allegedly used a chokehold on the victim, who did not have a weapon, while trying to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner, who was videotaped repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe,” died as a result of neck compression.
Meanwhile, Borough President Eric Adams said, the verdict should not be the focal point.
“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 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.”
Liang 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.