Thursday, February 11, 2016

NYPD Officer Peter Liang Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Fatal Shooting of Akai Gurley in Brooklyn Housing Development  

The rookie NYPD cop who gunned down innocent and unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project was convicted Thursday of the top count of manslaughter.

He faces up to 15 years behind bars when he’s sentenced later this year.

The shocking verdict was a powerful message from the jury that the public’s opinion on police killings has radically changed in the wake of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and other tragedies around the country.

Liang is due to be sentenced on April 14. He has already been fired from the NYPD and the department will begin the internal disciplinary process against his partner, Officer Shaun Landau.

Garner's widow, Esaw, was floored by the news.

NYPD Officer Peter Liang becomes emotional as his guilty verdict was read in Brooklyn Supreme Court Thursday evening.

"That is phenomenal for (Gurley's) family. I am happy for his family."

She believes that it was attention to her husband's case that contributed Liang's conviction.

"I am happy for the future," she said.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said, "Today’s verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed that night."

Akai Gurley (l.) was shot in a stairwell of the Pink Houses in Brooklyn. Peter Liang (r.) leaves the courtroom after the jury's verdict on Thursday.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch ripped the jury's decision, "We are very disappointed in the verdict and believe that the jury came to an absolutely wrong decision."

"This was a terrible and tragic accident and not a crime."

Liang's shooting of Gurley, 28, on Nov. 20, 2014 came four months after the police killing of Garner galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in New York.

Kimberly Ballinger, girlfriend of Akai Gurley, speaks to the media outside Brooklyn Supreme Court after Thursday's verdict.

Gurley had opted to take the stairs from the seventh floor because the elevator was not working in the Pink Houses yet again.

The father of a 2-year-old girl and his friend, Melissa Butler, walked into an unlit stairwell. The poor lighting was another common, documented complaint from residents in the NYCHA building.

One floor above, Liang and Landau, were just beginning a so-called vertical patrol in which they walked the stairs and checked out the roof - common areas for crime to occur.

Liang, who cried on the stand, testified that his finger was on the side of his drawn pistol as he entered the stairwell.

"I heard something on my left side...It startled me (then) the gun just went off," Liang testified during the trial.

The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley in the chest.

Liang said he initially thought he'd accidentally fired his weapon but not struck anyone. He and Landau bickered over who should report the screw-up, and Liang eventually called his sergeant's cellphone — instead of reporting it over the radio, which is recorded.

Akai Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer (r.), and stepfather, Kenneth Palmer (c.), leave court on Thursday.

Liang realized the magnitude of his mistake when he saw Butler desperately trying to save Gurley's life.

"I was panicking. I was shocked," Liang testified.

The two cops said they weren't confident in their training administering CPR — so they let Butler administer it instead.

"I didn't know if I could do it better than her," Liang said.

Liang, 28, is the first NYPD cop to be convicted for a fatal police-involved shooting since Officer Bryan Conroy was found guilty of the criminally negligent homicide of Ousmane Zongo.

In that tragedy, Conroy was working undercover when police raided a Chelsea warehouse filled with pirated DVDs and CDs. Zongo was not involved in the bootlegging operation but was in the warehouse working on African artifacts. He spoke little English, became terrified during the raid and made a run for it.

Conroy gave chase, cornered Zongo, 43, in a dark hallway and fired five shots, hitting him four times — including two in the back in 2003.

At Conroy's second trial in 2005 a judge gave him five years' probation. Zongo's family settled a civil suit against the city for $3 million.

In 2014 a Daily News investigation found that at least 179 people were killed by on-duty NYPD officers over the past 15 years. Just three of the deaths led to an indictment in state court.

With John Annese, Thomas Tracy

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