NEW YORK (AP) — A rookie police officer who shot an unarmed man dead in a darkened public housing stairwell was convicted Thursday of manslaughter in a case closely watched by advocates for police accountability.
The courtroom audience gasped and Officer Peter Liang, who had broken into tears as he testified about the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley, buried his head in his hands as the verdict came after 17 hours of jury deliberations. He had no comment after the verdict.
The manslaughter charge, a felony, carries up to 15 years in prison. While Liang awaits sentencing April 14, he was dismissed from the New York Police Department right after the verdict, department spokesman Peter Donald said.
But an uncertainty remains: Brooklyn state Supreme Court Danny Chun has yet to rule on Liang’s lawyers’ request to dismiss the charges; Liang also was convicted of official misconduct, a misdemeanor. The request was made before the verdict, which brought Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson to the courtroom audience to watch.
The shooting happened in a year of debate nationwide about police killings of black men, and activists have looked to Liang’s trial as a counterweight to cases in which grand juries have declined to indict officers, including the cases of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. Like Gurley, Brown and Garner were black and unarmed.
Relatives of other New Yorkers killed in police encounters had joined Gurley’s family to speak out about the case outside court during the trial.
“Police must be held accountable,” Gurley’s stepfather, Kenneth Palmer, said Monday.
Meanwhile, supporters of Liang, who is Chinese-American, have said he has been made a scapegoat for past injustices.
Deliberations stretched into Thursday evening, after jurors asked to review the New York Police Department firearms guide late in the afternoon. Earlier, they had reheard testimony from Liang and other witnesses.
Liang was patrolling a public housing high-rise in Brooklyn with his gun drawn when he fired; he said a sound startled him. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit the 28-year-old Gurley on a lower floor.