Rookie New York Police Officer Peter Liang, who shot and killed an unarmed man while patrolling a public housing, has been convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct.
Liang testified in the killing of Akai Gurley, 28, and could face 15 years of jail time after a jury consisting of seven men and five women found him guilty of manslaughter on Thursday. The manslaughter charge carries 15 years imprisonment, and Liang’s sentencing is scheduled for April 14.
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Liang was dismissed from the New York Police Department right after the decision came out, according to department spokesman Peter Donald.
Officer Liang and his partner were patrolling a public housing facility when he fired his gun into a darkened stairwell. The bullet ricocheted off the wall and hit Gurley, an unarmed man who happened to be in the stairwell with his girlfriend.
“Instead of shining a light, he pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley,” Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis stated in his closing argument.
Prosecutors claimed that Liang handled his weapon carelessly.
The defense team argued that Liang accidentally shot the victim after a noise startled him. He also admitted that he did not help Gurley, as he felt it was better to wait for assistance from a trained medical aid. He claimed he was not properly trained to offer CPR.
According to police documents, Liang, who failed to offer first aid or CPR to the victim, was also charged with official misconduct.
His legal representatives insisted that the police officer was in shock after the incident.
“I was panicking. I was shocked and in disbelief that someone was hit,” said Liang, who was also taken to a hospital for ringing in his ears.
The defendant said he had been holding his gun safely, with his finger positioned on the side and not on the trigger, when a sound surprised him and opened fire into the stairwell.
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“I just turned, and the gun went off,” Liang told the jury during a trial that caught the attention of advocates for police accountability.
He added that he looked with his flashlight but he did not see anyone, so he did not report the shot. The defendant admitted he was afraid he might get fired.
Liang searched for the bullet but found Gurley lying on the floor while the victim’s weeping girlfriend tried to tend to him.
“We don’t believe that the verdict was supported by the facts or the law, we plan on moving post-verdict in order to dismiss, and if that fails we plan to appeal,” defense attorney Robert Brown said.
The verdict was reached after two days of jury deliberations.
PBA President Patrick Lynch expressed his disappointment over the verdict, as he believes the jury “came to an absolutely wrong decision.”
“This was a terrible and tragic accident and not a crime. This bad verdict will have a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident,” Lynch said in a statement.
Meanwhile, supporters of Liang are afraid the officer has been made a scapegoat for previous police killings of black men. Liang’s case is only one of the many incidents involving police officers who used extreme force. However, in some previous cases, juries declined to prosecute police officers.
Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement on the Thursday night court decision.
“The death of Akai Gurley was a tragedy. The jury has now spoken, and we respect its decision. We hope today’s outcome brings some closure to the Gurley family after this painful event.”
[Photo by Pool/Getty images]