The rookie NYPD cop who gunned down innocent and unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project was convicted Thursday of manslaughter.
The shocking verdict was a powerful message from the jury that the public’s opinion on police killings has radically changed in the wake of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and other tragedies around the country.
The tension was palpable in the Brooklyn courtroom as the jury returned with the verdict just before 7:00 p.m.
Gurley’s family sat in the front row, as they had every day for the two week-long trial.
“I want to thank God. The D.A. was a man of his word,” said Kimberly Ballinger, the mother of Gurley’s daughter. “And I thank the jurors so much.””
“We’re not rejoicing,” Gurley’s aunt Hortencia Peterson told the Daily News. “But it’s about being accountable. It’s about a girl who will never know her father.”
Liang, also convicted of official misconduct, faces up to 15 years in jail when he’s sentenced April 14. He is the first NYPD cop to be convicted for a police-involved shooting in a decade.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said the verdict “only had to do with one police killing and that’s the one that Officer Peter Liang committed in the Pink Houses on Nov. 20, 2014. It’s as simple as that.”
“This has to do with who we are 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,” Thompson said.
Gurley had opted to take the stairs from the seventh floor because the elevator was not working in the NYCHA-run Pink Houses yet again.
The father of a 2-year-old girl and his friend, Melissa Butler, walked into an unlit stairwell. The poor lighting was another common, documented complaint from residents in the NYCHA building.
One floor above, Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were just beginning a so-called vertical patrol in which they walked the stairs and checked out the roof — common areas for crime to occur.
Liang, who cried when he took the stand in his own defense, testified his finger was on the side of his drawn pistol as he entered the stairwell.
“I heard something on my left side … It startled me (then) the gun just went off,” Liang testified during the trial.
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SOURCE: NY Daily News – CHRISTINA CARREGA-WOODBY, JOHN MARZULLI, STEPHEN REX BROWN