In November of 2014, New York City police officer Peter Liang shot and killed Akai Gurley inside a darkened stairwell in an apartment building.
Now the officer may serve up to 15 years in prison after a conviction Thursday for manslaughter and official misconduct.
Those attending the trial inside the Brooklyn Supreme Court gasped when the verdict was read.
The incident took place on November 20, 2014 in the Pink House projects after Gurley and his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, entered the dark stairwell because the elevators were broken.
Both were unarmed.
Tenants had made several requests to the New York Housing Authority in efforts to get the stairwell lights fixed, but their requests went ignored.
Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were patrolling the unlit stairwell in the Pink House projects. Liang, a rookie cop, was holding a flashlight in his right hand and a Glock 9 mm in the other hand.
Upon hearing a noise, he says his gun just went off.
“I heard something on my left side…It startled me (then) the gun just went off,” Liang testified in court.
The bullet ricocheted off of a wall and fatally struck Gurley in the chest, killing the 28-year-old man.
“Instead of shining a light, he pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley,” said Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis in closing arguments.
Liang, 28, did not radio for medic help until six minutes after Gurley was shot; instead he was sending text messages to his union rep to figure how he could get out of hot water.
It took a tenant who heard the shot to finally call 911. When Liang finally radioed in, he claimed an accidental discharge had occurred. But anybody trained in firearms knows there is no such thing as an accidental discharge because guns don’t just go off.
The two officers didn’t even know how to administer CPR to the dying Gurley, which indicates further lack of training. Instead, Gurley’s frantic girlfriend had to attempt CPR following instructions from a 911 operator, hence, the official misconduct conviction.
“There’s nothing in this world that can heal my pain and my heartache. I need justice for my son because my son didn’t deserve to die like that,” said Gurley’s mother, Sylvia Palmer.
The family has a pending civil lawsuit against the NYPD and the city.
The attorney representing the Gurley family, Scott Rynecki said:
“No one is here rejoicing at the fact that this officer was convicted, but the message was sent, that if a police officer does something wrong their actions will be held accountable and will be held accountable in a court of law.”
New York city Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed-in on the verdict saying:
“The death of Akai Gurley was a tragedy. The jury has now spoken, and we respect their decision. We hope today’s outcome brings some closure to the Gurley family after this painful event.”
However, Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the verdict would have “a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident,” according to the New York Times.
The New York Police Department fired Liang immediately upon the verdict, per department spokesman Peter Donald. Liang’s sentencing is set for April 14.