On Tuesday, an NYPD cop was indicted on manslaughter charges for shooting to death an unarmed Brooklyn man on November 20.
Peter Liang, 27, may be sentenced to jail for as many as 15 years for the death of Akai Gurley, who was shot when Liang’s 9-mm Glock, which he allegedly held in the same hand as the one opening a door, fired, hitting Gurley in the chest.
Liang, a rookie officer who had only served for 18 months, was allegedly holding a flashlight in his other hand as he patrolled the Pink Houses in East New York, an unlit housing project. Gurley was in the landing one floor below with his girlfriend.
According to the New York Daily News, sources reported that Liang has been indicted for a top count second-degree manslaughter, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and official misconduct. A secret panel began its hearing on February 4.
Although Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson offered no comment, Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s girlfriend and the mother of their two-year-old daughter, told the Daily News, “I’m glad the grand jury looked at the evidence and returned an indictment. I am happy, I have faith in the Brooklyn District Attorney and I thank him.” She had threatened to sue the city for $50 million, but now she and her attorney Scott Rynecki seemed satisfied, although Rynecki sounded as if a suit would be forthcoming, saying, “This is the first step in the fight for justice for this wrongful and reckless shooting.”
The Daily News reported that Liang and his partner immediately texted their union delegates after the shooting instead of answering their radio.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, who has waged a battle against New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for months, called for caution, saying,“The fact the he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident.” He was echoed by Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, who said, “I’m sad that he was indicted. I don’t know exactly what transpired in that hallway, but I believe it’s a truly accidental incident.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has led nationwide protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, expressed satisfaction. He said he and Gurley’s family “are pleased that the process will now allow for a fair and impartial hearing.” Sharpton continued, “Unlike the case in Staten Island, this case shows the difference in a prosecutor who will respect the grand jury’s role to decide probable cause, rather than attempt to influence it… I don’t think that he’s a sacrificial lamb since a jury will decide his fate. If anything, Gurley was a sacrificial lamb in a program of vertical policing that we have strongly opposed.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) weighed in, too, stating, “The effort to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community necessarily involves holding an officer accountable when an innocent life is taken and a law is broken. The indictment is a meaningful step in the right direction in the march toward justice for the family of Akai Gurley.”
Mayor de Blasio had his say, adding, “No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family. We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”
Unlike the grand juries in Missouri and Staten Island in the Brown and Garner cases, which took weeks to examine the testimony of witnesses, the grand jury took less than a week to come to a decision. Liang was not allowed to take the stand, unlike Daniel Pantaleo, the officer the grand jury examined in Garner’s death.
Some think the decision in the Gurley case is a “make-up call” for the failure of the grand jury to indict Pantaleo. One policeman, anticipating the decision in the Gurley case, told New York magazine several weeks ago, “The guy who deserved to get indicted didn’t, and the guy who screwed up probably will.”