More than 250 people marched Saturday to protest the death of an unarmed man who police say was accidentally shot by a rookie officer in a dimly lit stairwell at a public housing project.
"Bratton must go! Bratton must go!" chanted protestors, calling for the removal of NYPD Chief William Bratton.
The family of the victim, Akai Gurley, including his 2-year-old daughter and mother, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton at the Harlem rally. His girlfriend, present during the shooting, also attended the rally.
"The killer of Akai is still around," said protestor Charles Barron. "We want him arrested."
Gurley, 28, was unarmed when probationary officer Peter Liang accidentally discharged his weapon in the stairwell Thursday night, according to Bratton.
Liang has been placed on modified duty. He and another officer, both with less than 18 months on the force, were part of a violence reduction overtime detail on vertical patrol, conducting floor-by-floor sweeps of the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York at around 11 p.m.
As the officers entered the eighth-floor landing on the day of the shooting, 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. That's when Liang, who had his gun in his left hand and his flashlight in his right, fired accidentally, hitting Gurley 11 feet below.
City leaders have promised an investigation. But angry residents argue that the shooting cannot be written off as an accident.
"How is having your gun out with no provocation and your finger on the trigger, your safety off, an accident," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams. "At minimum, that sounds like criminal negligence."
Mayor Bill de Blasio called Gurley's death a "tragic mistake."
The Brooklyn district attorney's office and the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau are investigating. The New York City Housing Authority said it was cooperating.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson called the shooting "deeply troubling."
"Many questions must be answered, including whether, as reported, the lights in the hallway were out for a number of days, and how this tragedy actually occurred," Thompson said in a statement.
Authorities have interviewed the second officer and Gurley's girlfriend, but have not yet spoken to Liang. The district attorney's office will determine whether it will file criminal charges after interviewing Liang. Then internal affairs officers can question him, a standard policy.
Both officers were taken to the hospital for ringing in their ears, according to the NYPD. The housing project they were assigned to patrol has seen several serious crimes over the last month, including two robberies and two assaults. Two people were killed there this year, Bratton said.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement that the Pink Houses are among the city's most dangerous projects.
"Dimly lit stairways and dilapidated conditions create fertile ground for violent crime while the constant presence of illegal firearms creates a dangerous and highly volatile environment for police officers and residents alike," Lynch said. "Only time and a thorough investigation will tell us what transpired in this case."
Neighbors expressed concern during a candlelight vigil held for Gurley Friday night, chanting "Bratton must go."
Seventh-floor resident Dashwan Lopez said the lights in the hallway had been out for days before they were finally repaired Friday, prompting questions over whether Liang would have even drawn his gun if the lights had been on.
In Lopez's mind, "it could be better managed by housing, but it's still not an excuse to discharge your weapon without knowing what's going on," he said.
The shooting comes as the department is changing how rookie cops are used fresh out of the academy to give them more training and time with more senior officers.
Bratton is implementing a program that pairs less experienced officers with veteran officers on vertical and other patrols, but the program has had to be rolled out over time due to staffing constraints, law enforcement officials said.
Sharpton runs the National Action Network and is a talk-show host on MSNBC, which is owned by WNBC's parent company, NBCUniversal.
--Lori Bordonaro and Brynn Gingras contributed to this report.