Officer Convicted in Akai Gurley Case to Appeal
Attorneys for a New York City policeman convicted of shooting an unarmed man to death in a public housing stairwell said he will appeal the verdict.
A jury found Peter Liang, a rookie cop, guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct Thursday in the killing of Akai Gurley, 28. The officer faces up to 15 years in prison, his sentencing is scheduled for April 14. The case closely watched by advocates for police accountability.
His lawyer, Robert Brown said he was “distraught” after the verdict was read, WABC-TV reported.
Liang, who had broken into tears as he testified about the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley, buried his head in his hands as the verdict came after 17 hours of jury deliberations.
The shooting happened in a year of debate nationwide about police killings of black men, and activists have looked to Liang’s trial as a counterweight to cases in which grand juries have declined to indict officers, including the cases of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. Like Gurley, Brown and Garner were black and unarmed.
Meanwhile, supporters of Liang, who is Chinese-American, have said he has been made a scapegoat for past injustices.
Liang was patrolling a public housing high-rise in Brooklyn with his gun drawn when he fired; he said a sound startled him. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit the 28-year-old Gurley on a lower floor.
Prosecutors said Liang handled his gun recklessly, must have realized from the noise that someone was nearby and did almost nothing to help Gurley.
“Instead of shining a light, he pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley,” Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis said in his closing argument.
But the defense said the shooting was an accident, not a crime.
The 28-year-old Liang said he had been holding his weapon safely, with his finger on the side and not the trigger, when the sudden sound jarred him and his body tensed.
“I just turned, and the gun went off,” he testified.
He said he initially looked with his flashlight, saw no one and didn’t immediately report the shot, instead quarreling with his partner about who would call their sergeant. Liang thought he might get fired.
But then, he said, he went to look for the bullet, heard cries and found the wounded Gurley, with his weeping girlfriend trying to tend to him.
Liang then radioed for an ambulance, but he acknowledged not helping Gurley’s girlfriend try to revive him. Liang explained he thought it was wiser to wait for professional medical aid.
“I was panicking. I was shocked and in disbelief that someone was hit,” said Liang.