Rookie police officer Peter Liang pleaded not guilty February 11 to manslaughter, official misconduct, and other charges in the shooting death of unarmed 28-year-old Akai Gurley, according to the Associated Press.
Liang was released without bail after the arraignment hearing. Under the indictment, which was unsealed, he was also charged with criminally negligent homicide, assault, and reckless endangerment, according to NBC Channel 4 New York.
The officer briefly appeared in the Brooklyn courtroom. Stephen Worth, his attorney, maintained that the shooting was an accident.
On November 20, 2014, Gurley was killed while visiting a public housing complex in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, the Louis Pink Houses. He went to have his hair braided.
At the time, Liang was an officer for approximately 18 months. He and his partner were patrolling the complex because of a spike in the report of violent crime.
They descended the stairwell onto an eighth-floor landing. Gurley had been waiting for an elevator and, instead, decided to take the stairs. Akai opened the door to the seventh-floor landing.
The prosecutors indicated that Liang, with a gun in his left hand and a flashlight in his right, fired a shot. Unfortunately, that bullet ricocheted and struck Gurley in the chest, who later collapsed two flights down.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Fliedner stated that Liang was supposed to have kept his finger off the trigger and to the side of the weapon. He stated the following.
“The defendant ignored this training… As a result, Mr. Akai Gurley is dead.”
Fliedner said that Liang and his partner retreated to the eighth floor instead of rendering aid, a charge that Worth denies. According to court documents, Liang said to his partner: “It was an accident. I’m going to be fired.” When other officers responded and started to help Gurley, Liang came down the stairs, but “just stood there,” Fliedner said. Gurley was taken to a hospital where he later died.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson stated that prosecutors didn’t believe that Liang intended to kill Gurley. “But he had his finger on the trigger and he fired the gun,” he said.
The case was closely watched following the mass protests and calls for reform of the grand jury system nationwide after a Staten Island grand jury’s failure to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, and a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer in the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Gurley’s family, said that, regardless of intent, the shooting was unjustified. Gurley’s domestic partner and mother of his toddler daughter filed a notice of claim that she was planning to sue the city in his death.
As was reported in the Inquisitr, protesters had been demanding an indictment for months.
[Video Courtesy CBS New York via YouTube, Image via Augustas Didžgalvis/Wikipedia]