Brooklyn Man Shot by Cop in Stairwell Mourned as D.A. Announces Grand Jury to Be Impaneled

Days after a Staten Island grand jury decision in the Eric Garner chokehold death case prompted outrage and protests across New York City and the nation, the Brooklyn district attorney's office told NBC 4 New York Friday it would impanel a grand jury to consider charges in the case of Akai Gurley, the unarmed man fatally shot by police in a dark Brooklyn housing project stairwell late last month.

District Attorney Ken Thompson launched an investigation almost immediately after the November shooting death of Gurley, who was mourned at a wake Friday night. Thompson said he was convening the grand jury "because it is important to get to the bottom of what happened," pledging "a full and fair investigation."

The news came several hours after Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer, called for homicide charges to be filed during a teary news conference that marked her first comments since her son's death Nov. 20.

That night, Gurley and his girlfriend were walking down the stairs to get out of the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York as NYPD officer Peter Liang and his partner were conducting a floor-by-floor sweep of the building, and the 28-year-old was shot when he stepped out onto a landing.

Bratton has described the shooting as a tragic accident and called Gurley a "total innocent."

Gurley's mother said Friday she wants justice for her 28-year-old son.

"I need justice for my son. I want my son to rest in peace with the respect he deserved," a weepy Palmer said. "It’s like I feel like I'm lying in the morgue with him right now. I need my son back."

Palmer, who lives in Florida with Gurley's stepfather, said their son was leaving his girlfriend's apartment and was going to get his hair braided before visiting them with his baby daughter for Thanksgiving when he was shot. She said the visit would have been the first time she had seen him in two years.

"Now there will never be another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another Valentine's, no social gatherings," she said. "My son was my heart and now he's taken away from me."

At a wake at a Brooklyn church Friday night, Gurley was remembered as a loyal father and son. A stream of mourners lined the street as his casket was brought into the church. "He was an American!" mourner Selina Forfort exclaimed.

The mother of his 2-year-old daughter said at the wake she still hasn't told the girl what happened.

"Not only did I lose someone, my daughter is supposed to grow up without a dad," said Kimberly Ballinger. "What am I supposed to tell her? How do I explain to her that her dad isn't coming home no more?" 

She told NBC 4 New York before the service, "I want an indictment. Not only do Akai need justice, his daughter needs justice as well." 

Bratton has said the shooting officer, Liang, had drawn his weapon and a flashlight for safety reasons given the pitch-black stairwell at the housing project where several major crimes had been documented earlier this year, and the weapon accidentally went off. Liang's partner kept his weapon holstered. The two were assigned to the complex as part of a violence reduction overtime detail.

Liang was placed on modified duty after the shooting. The medical examiner later ruled Gurley's death a homicide.

Gurley's name is one of several that has been scrawled on protesters' signs in the wake of the Garner grand jury decision Wednesday and following a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed teen Michael Brown. More protests are planned for Thursday, and Palmers are expected to join the Garner and Brown's family along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders for a march in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13.

Echoing a plea earlier made by city officials in the wake of the Garner decision, Gurley's stepfather, Ken Palmer, asked demonstrators to "let peace reign."

Gurley was "always a faithful, faithful person," Palmer told mourners Friday.

"When you hear laughter, that's Akai. When you see a smile, that's Akai," he said. " ... Let us not forget."

The Rev. Al Sharpton had been scheduled to speak at the service Friday but later withdrew, citing a "family dispute" among Gurley's relatives that he said he did not want to interfere with. Gurley's funeral is scheduled for Saturday. 

-- Michael George contributed to this report. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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