Crime and Courts

Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

Rookie NYPD Officer Indicted in Shooting Death of Unarmed Man in Dark Stairwell

Police say 28-year-old Akai Gurley was killed in an accident in a dark stairway

A grand jury has indicted an NYPD officer in the November shooting of an unarmed Brooklyn man in a darkened public housing building's stairwell, a law enforcement source and a lawyer for the victim's family told NBC 4 New York.

The Brooklyn district attorney's office would not comment on grand jury proceedings, but the law enforcement source and a family attorney said officer Peter Liang has been indicted in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley and will surrender Wednesday.

The charge, which is not yet known, will be unsealed, according to the Associated Press.

“This is the first step in a fight for justice in this wrongful and reckless shooting of an innocent man,” Gurley family attorney Scott Rynecki said. The family will address the media outside of court Wednesday, he said.  

The head of the NYPD officer's union said Liang deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in an accidental death.    

"The fact that he was assigned to patrol one most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident,” Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said in a statement. 

Mayor de Blasio urged "everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds”

Police say Gurley was accidentally killed after opening a door in a pitch-dark stairway that Liang, a rookie officer, was patrolling in the Pink Houses in East New York.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said that the shooting was an accident and called Gurley a "total innocent." Liang was placed on desk duty after the shooting. The shooting, amid the choking death of Eric Garner, sparked protests around the city.

Police say Liang and his partner, who both had less than 18 months on the force, were conducting a floor-by-floor sweep of the building and had gone to the roof when they noticed there were no lights in the stairwell leading up to it.

Given the location and lack of light, Liang drew his weapon and a flashlight for safety reasons, police have said. The other officer kept his service weapon holstered.

As the officers were entering the eighth-floor landing, Gurley emerged on the seventh-floor landing. He heard a noise and turned to look up at the two officers a floor above him, a law enforcement source said.

Then Liang fired, hitting Gurley 11 feet below him, according to police.Gurley was shot in the chest. He stumbled down to his girlfriend, who was by that point on the fifth floor, and she tried to administer first aid, authorities said. Liang and his partner found the couple on the fifth floor; 911 had already been called. Gurley was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Neighbors in the Pink Houses said news of the indictment is encouraging.

"This is going in a proper direction," said Ty Black. "At the same time, we still have a lot of fight in us. We are sticking to what we want, which is jail time and a conviction." 

In the meantime, some security measures at the Pink Houses appear to have improved. One neighbor said lights are working and cameras are visible.

The last officer to be indicted in New York was Richard Haste. Haste was indicted on a manslaughter charge in the death of Ramarley Graham on Feb. 2, 2012, in the Bronx after a suspected drug bust gone awry. The case was tossed on a technicality, and another grand jury declined to indict the officer.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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