Jan. 29, 2015.

NYC Officer Charged in Death of Brooklyn Man, Union Says

by Christian Dolmetsch

(Bloomberg) -- A New York City police officer was indicted by a state grand jury in the November fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in the stairwell of a Brooklyn, New York, apartment building, according to the police union.

Rookie officer Peter Liang shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley while on patrol at the Louis H. Pink Houses on Nov. 20, according to the New York City Police Department. Liang is accused of manslaughter and faces as long as 15 years in prison, the New York Daily News reported, without citing its source.

Liang “deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another,” Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement. The fact that “he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said in December he would convene a grand jury to probe Gurley’s death. The announcement came just days after another officer was cleared in the July choking death on Staten Island of Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, who was killed during a confrontation over the sale of untaxed loose cigarettes.

“No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”

Missouri Case

The decision not to charge the officer in Garner’s death, which came just a week after a Missouri grand jury cleared a white officer there in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen, led to protests in the city and around the country.

The Garner decision also prompted a civil-rights probe into his death by the U.S. Justice Department and spurred New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to seek special authority from Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate killings by police of unarmed civilians separately from inquiries by elected county prosecutors.

Thompson’s office didn’t immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment on the indictment of Liang. He scheduled a press conference for Wednesday after an arraignment, saying in a statement that no further information will be released until then “as the results of the grand jury’s deliberations remain sealed as a matter of law.”

Liang’s indictment was first reported by the TV news station NY1.

The Shooting

According to the NYPD, Liang and another officer were descending the dimly lit stairwell from an eighth-floor landing when they encountered Gurley. Liang fired one round from his service weapon, striking Gurley in the chest. He was taken to Brookdale Hospital and pronounced dead upon arrival, the NYPD said. The city Medical Examiner’s Officer ruled Gurley’s death a homicide by gunshot wound to the torso.

“This is the first step in the fight for justice in this wrongful and reckless shooting of Akai Gurley,” Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Kim Ballinger, Gurley’s domestic partner and the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, said by telephone.

The police union’s Lynch has said the Pink Houses stairwells are the most dangerous places in the most dangerous projects in the city, where dilapidated conditions create “fertile ground for violent crime” and the constant presence of illegal guns creates a “dangerous and highly volatile environment for police officers and residents alike.”

Public Advocate

New York Public Advocate Letitia James said the day after the shooting that it raised serious concerns about training and patrols in the city’s public housing. She called for a police policy that bars probationary officers from patrolling high-crime areas without veterans present.

James last week appeared before a state judge in Staten Island to argue for the release of the evidence presented to the grand jury that cleared Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death.

“The effort to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community necessarily involves holding an officer accountable when an innocent life is taken and a law is broken,” Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from Brooklyn who represents the Pink Houses, said in a statement. “The indictment is a meaningful step in the right direction.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha atmhytha@bloomberg.net. Charles Carter, David Glovin