Wall Street Journal
Updated Feb. 10, 2015
4:29 p.m. ET


NYPD Officer Indicted in Death of Unarmed Brooklyn Man

 

Akai Gurley, 28 Years Old, Was Shot and Killed in a Brooklyn Housing Project

By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

A New York City police officer was indicted Tuesday on multiple charges, including manslaughter, in the November shooting death of an unarmed black man in the darkened stairwell of a housing project, a senior law-enforcement official said.

The indictment by a Brooklyn grand jury follows widespread protests after the decision by a grand jury in the borough of Staten Island not to indict a city police officer in the death of Eric Garner, another unarmed African-American man who died in July after a confrontation with that officer that was recorded.

The decision by that grand jury and another in Ferguson, Mo., not to indict a police officer in the death of teen Michael Brown have sparked a national public debate about prosecuting police officers involved in civilian fatalities.

In the Brooklyn case, the grand jury, which began meeting last Wednesday, handed up a total of six charges against Officer Peter Liang in the Nov. 20 death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, the official said.

Officer Liang’s gun accidentally fired one shot as he and his partner were preparing to walk down a staircase at a public housing complex in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, authorities have said.

Along with the top count of second-degree manslaughter, Officer Liang is charged with criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of official misconduct, the official said.

Officer Liang is expected to surrender on Wednesday and be arraigned that afternoon, the official said. His attorney, Stephen Worth, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday. District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon where he is expected to formally announce the decision.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he spoke with Mr. Thompson Tuesday and that the district attorney told him “the evidence led to where it did.”

“I think this just shows there is a difference in DAs,” Mr. Sharpton said. “I do not see how a DA in Brooklyn can get an indictment in a dark stairwell and a DA in Staten Island can’t get one when there is a video.”

Neither the offices of Mr. Thompson nor Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan would comment on Mr. Sharpton’s statement.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged “everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”

Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents New York Police Department officers, said Officer Liang “deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another.”

“The fact the 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,” he said in a statement.

Officer Liang, who had less than 18 months on the force at the time of the shooting, has been on modified desk duty and has had his badge and gun taken away, pending the outcome of the criminal case and a separate probe by NYPD Internal Affairs.

Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Mr. Gurley’s girlfriend and mother of the couple’s 2-year-old son, called the grand jury decision a “first step in the fight for justice in this wrongful and reckless shooting of Akai Gurley.”

Officer Liang had his gun drawn when he and his partner entered an eighth floor stairwell in the housing complex, according to an NYPD investigation. Mr. Gurley and his girlfriend had entered the stairwell 14 steps below on the seventh floor and Officer Liang fired a single shot, authorities said. The bullet hit Mr. Gurley in the chest. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward at a hospital.

A police probe found that there were no words exchanged between the officer and Mr. Gurley. Police Commissioner William Bratton has said the officer had “no intention to strike anybody.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Garner case to determine if his civil rights were violated, and a Staten Island judge is expected to rule soon if grand jury minutes from the case should be released.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com