NEW YORK, Feb. 12 (UPI) — A rookie New York City police officer was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 shooting death of an unarmed man in the stairwell of a public housing complex.
Officer Peter Liang was also found guilty of official misconduct for failing to help Akai Gurley, 28, after he was hit in the chest by a ricocheting bullet. Gurley and his girlfriend were walking in an unlighted stairwell inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn on Nov. 20, 2014, when Liang burst in and opened fire. Gurley’s girlfriend testified Liang did not offer aid while he was bleeding.
The jury deliberated for about two days before rendering a decision. Liang bowed his head and held his face in his hands after the verdict. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 14. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
“Clearly it’s a terrible tragedy Mr. Gurley died,” said one of Liang’s lawyers, Robert E. Brown. “My client feels terrible about it, but what he did wasn’t a crime.”
The conviction comes amid a national conversation about policing in black neighborhoods after a number of killings of unarmed black men by police officers nationwide. Liang’s case is a rare instance in which an officer is convicted of killing someone in the line of duty.
Defense attorneys said Liang was improperly trained and the shooting was accidental. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said the conviction is not a bigger indictment of police actions across the country.
“This has to do with who are we here in Brooklyn. We support our police officers, but when innocent men are shot and killed through an act of recklessness, we have to hold whoever is responsible accountable, whether that is a police officer or not,” he said.