A rookie New York City police officer who shot an unarmed man in a pitch-dark public housing stairway has been convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct.
The courtroom audience gasped and Officer Peter Liang buried his head in his hands as the verdict came on Thursday after 17 hours of jury deliberations.
A jury in Brooklyn found Liang guilty in connection with the death of Akai Gurley, 28, who was killed by a bullet fired from Liang’s gun on November 20, 2014, that ricocheted off a wall.
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Rookie New York City police officer Peter Liang buries his head in his hands as he is convicted of manslaughter on Thursday in connection to the death of Akai Gurley, who was killed by a bullet fired by Liang’s gun last November
Liang was patrolling in the public housing in Brooklyn with his gun drawn when he fired; he said a sound startled him. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit 28-year-old Akai Gurley (pictured) on a lower floor
Jurors delivered their verdict during the second full day of deliberations in Liang’s manslaughter trial, which has been closely watched by advocates for police accountability.
The manslaughter charge carries up to 15 years in prison and Liang’s sentencing is set for April 14.
The officer was on patrol inside a Brooklyn public housing project with his partner and drew his gun upon entering a pitch-black stairwell last November.
He fired a single bullet that ricocheted off a wall and into the chest of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, who was walking one floor below.
At the time, Gurley was taking the stairs with his girlfriend instead of waiting for an elevator.
Prosecutors said Liang, 28, handled his gun recklessly and did almost nothing to help Gurley.
Liang said he fired by accident after a noise startled him, and acknowledged not helping Gurley’s girlfriend try to revive him.
However, Liang explained he thought it was wiser to wait for professional medical aid.
Peter Liang as the verdict is read in court at the Brooklyn Supreme Court in New York on Thursday
‘Oh my god, someone’s hit,’ a tearful Liang (right) recalled saying upon finding a bleeding Gurley (left) lying on a landing, as his girlfriend frantically tried to revive him
‘Instead of shining a light, he pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley,’ Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis said in his closing argument.
Prosecutors argued that Liang fired toward the sound and that he must have known only another person could have caused the noise that surprised him.
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.
Kimberly Ballinger, the domestic partner of Akai Gurley, is pictured leaving court after Liang was found guilty of manslaughter. When Liang went to look for the bullet, he heard cries and found the wounded Gurley, with his weeping girlfriend trying to tend to him
Sylvia Palmer, mother of Akai Gurley, (left) is led from the courtroom on Thursday after hearing the verdict
The victim’s family is pictured above. 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 as he fired and the bullet hit Gurley
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.
‘Oh my god, someone’s hit,’ a tearful Liang recalled saying upon finding a bleeding Gurley lying on a landing, as his girlfriend frantically tried to revive him.
Liang then radioed for an ambulance, but he acknowledged not helping Gurley’s girlfriend try to revive him.
‘I was panicking. I was shocked and in disbelief that someone was hit,’ Liang said, who added he was so overcome that he needed oxygen as he was taken to a hospital for ringing in his ears.
Prosecutors argued that Liang fired toward the sound and that he must have known only another person could have caused the noise that surprised him
Liang pictured above as he is led from the courtroom after hearing the verdict. The manslaughter charge carries up to 15 years in prison. His sentencing is set for April 14
The shooting added to nationwide protests over the use of police force against minorities, though Liang, a Chinese-American, was not accused of deliberately killing Gurley.
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.
Supporters of Liang, have said he has been made a scapegoat for past injustices.