NYPD officer who shot dead 'totally innocent' unarmed father in dimly lit stairwell to be indicted on manslaughter charges 

  • A grand jury has indicted Officer Peter Liang over the death of unarmed Akai Gurley
  • The charges were not reported but Liang is expected to surrender on Wednesday to face manslaughter charges
  • Gurley died in dimly lit Brooklyn apartment block in November after opting for the stairs when the elevator took too long
  • Liang, a rookie Asian-American officer, and his partner were conducting a routine patrol of the apartment building
  • After Liang fired, he and partner Shaun Landau allegedly did not respond to radio contact for more than 6.5 minutes

A rookie NYPD officer has been indicted by a grand jury on manslaughter charges for the fatal shooting of an unarmed father while patrolling a darkened stairwell of a housing project last November, said the dead man's lawyer on Tuesday.

Officer Peter Liang, 28, opened fire without warning on November 20 when Akai Gurley, 28, opened the door to the stairs with his girlfriend because he had become impatient waiting for the elevator.

According to reports it took Liang and his partner more than six minutes to call for respond to their radio after the officer fired a single bullet and killed the father-of-one.

Liang will surrender himself and appear in court on Wednesday according to Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Gurley's family.

Akai Gurley
Akai Gurley

Justice: Unarmed father-of-one, Akai Gurley (pictured) was shot dead by NYPD Officer Peter Liang in November. His death was one of a series of deaths involving black men at the hands of police which sparked angry protests across the United States last year

The charges against Liang, in the death of the father-of-one weren't immediately made clear but sources have indicated that he will be charged with manslaughter in the second degree.

Patrick J. Lynch, head of Liang's union, said he deserves due process.

'The fact that 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,' Lynch said.

The indictment comes after mass protests and calls for reform of the grand jury system nationwide following a Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner and a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict an officer in the death of Michael Brown.

The November death of Gurley, 28, was ruled a 'homicide' by the Medical Examiner's office - just as Eric Garner's was. 

Rynecki said the shooting was unjustified, regardless of whether it was intentional.

'This is the first step for justice,' he said.

Scene: A stairwell is seen at a building in a public housing project in Brooklyn known as the 'Pink Houses', where Akai Gurley was killed by rookie NYPD Officer Peter Liang

Scene: A stairwell is seen at a building in a public housing project in Brooklyn known as the 'Pink Houses', where Akai Gurley was killed by rookie NYPD Officer Peter Liang

Devastating loss: Akai Gurley's daughter Akaila sits on her mother Kimberly Ballinger's lap as reverend Al Sharpton speaks at the National Action Network in Harlem in the days after her father's death

Devastating loss: Akai Gurley's daughter Akaila sits on her mother Kimberly Ballinger's lap as reverend Al Sharpton speaks at the National Action Network in Harlem in the days after her father's death

Asian-American Liang and his partner were patrolling the Louis Pink Houses, a public housing development in Brooklyn's gritty East New York neighborhood, on November 20.

The New York Police Department assigns rookie officers as reinforcements in parts of the city that have seen increases in crime. 

The housing project, where Gurley's friend lives, had been the scene of a recent shooting, robberies and assaults.

The officers had descended onto an eighth-floor landing when, 14 steps away, Gurley and the woman who had been braiding his hair opened a door into the seventh-floor landing after giving up their wait for the elevator so he could head to the lobby. 

The lights were burned out in the stairwell, leaving it 'pitch black' and prompting both officers to use flashlights, police said after the shooting.

Liang, for reasons unclear, also had his gun drawn, police said. He was about 10 feet from Gurley when, without a word and apparently by accident, he fired a shot, police said.

Gurley was struck in the chest. The two made it down two flights of stairs after he was shot, but he collapsed on the fifth-floor landing and lost consciousness, according to the woman, Melissa Butler.

Protesters demanding justice for Akai Gurley, holds a placard at the site of his shooting death in Brooklyn on December 27 last year

Protesters demanding justice for Akai Gurley, holds a placard at the site of his shooting death in Brooklyn on December 27 last year

Gurley was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died, police said. 

After Liang discharged the bullet, he and partner Shaun Landau did not respond to radio contact for more than 6.5 minutes, the New York Daily News reported in December. 

New York police almost immediately declared that his death was a 'very unfortunate tragedy' and commissioner Bill Bratton described Gurley as a 'total innocent.'

Police officials pieced together the details of the shooting from radio reports and interviews with the girlfriend and the second officer, but they have not spoken to Liang and won't until after the criminal proceedings are completed. 

Liang was placed on desk duty after the shooting.

The shooting came at a time when the NYPD, the nation's biggest police department, is changing how rookie officers are used fresh out of the academy to give them more training and time with more senior officers. 

The shooting recalled a 2004 incident in which 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot dead by a startled officer on a Brooklyn rooftop of a housing complex. His family got a $2 million settlement with the city.

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