A grand jury has indicted a rookie New York City police officer in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed African-American man shot dead in a darkened stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex last November, an attorney for Gurley’s family confirmed to NBC New York.
Sources told NBC New York that NYPD Officer Peter Liang was indicted Tuesday afternoon on unknown charges and that he will surrender Wednesday.
Police say that Liang accidentally shot Gurley, 28, during a patrol inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. Liang and another officer, Shaun Landa, were climbing the darkened stairwell when Gurley, who was visiting his girlfriend’s apartment, entered the stairwell from a floor below the officers. Liang, with his gun drawn, fired a single shot that struck Gurley in the chest.
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described Gurley as a “total innocent.” Liang has been on desk-duty since the shooting.
Both Liang and Landa had been on the job for less than 18 months at the time of the shooting, and their immediate handling of the shooting was called into question. According to reports, the officers notified their union representatives of the shooting before their supervisors.
Gurley’s killing came as New York City and the nation were gripped in protest over the deaths of a number of unarmed black men by police, including Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed in an apparent police chokehold by police. A month after Gurley’s Nov. 20 killing, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved in Garner’s death.
"This is the first step in a fight for justice in this wrongful and reckless shooting of an innocent man," Scott Rynecki, an attorney for Gurley’s family, told NBC New York.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a union that represents NYPD officers, responded to news of the indictment by saying Liang deserves rights of due process, adding that the officer’s work detail contributed to the shooting.
"This officer deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another,” Lynch said. “The fact the he was assigned to patrol one most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident."
The Kings County District Attorney’s Office said it could not offer comment at this time because the grand jury’s deliberations remain legally sealed. The district attorney’s office said it will release more information Wednesday afternoon following Liang’s arrangement, scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.
Last week, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced the indictment of another NYPD officer, this one charged with third-degree assault, third-degree attempted assault and one count of official misconduct for allegedly stomping on a suspect’s head while the suspect was face down and being handcuffed. The officer, Joel Edouard, faces up to a year in jail if convicted.