Family of Akai Gurley Files Lawsuit Against Officers in Shooting, Housing Authority

The family of an unarmed man shot by a New York City police officer in a darkened stairwell in November has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. 

The lawsuit was filed Thursday. It names the officer who shot Akai Gurley, the officer's partner and the city's Housing Authority. The suit, which has been filed on behalf of Gurley's daughter and her mother, was announced by attorney Scott Rynecki.

"The filing of the civil complaint is another step in the fight for justice for the reckless shooting of Akai Gurley by police officer Peter Liang," Rynecki said in a statement. 

The city's Law Department calls the shooting a tragic accident and says it will review the claims once the lawsuit is served.

Gurley was shot and killed by officer Peter Liang, who was patroling the Louis Pink Houses with a partner on Nov. 20.

The officers had descended onto an eighth-floor landing when Gurley and a friend who had been braiding his hair opened a door to the seventh-floor landing because they didn't want to wait for the elevator to take them to the lobby. 

The lights were burned out in the stairwell, leaving it "pitch black" and prompting both officers to use flashlights, police said after the shooting.

Liang, 27, possibly concerned about the dark stairwell in an area where several high-profile crimes had happened, had his gun drawn, police have said. He was about 10 feet from Gurley when, without a word and apparently by accident, he fired a shot, police said.

Gurley was struck in the chest. He made it down two flights of stairs after he was shot, but collapsed on the fifth-floor landing and lost consciousness, according to the woman, described as a both a friend and a girlfriend. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died, police said.

Liang was indicted on manslaughter charges after the shooting. At a court appeance last week, his attorney filed to have the charges dropped. 

The shooting came amid tensions between the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio and the public following the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Those tensions rubbed raw a few weeks after Gurley's death, when a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death, resulting in widespread protests across the city. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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