NPR logo

NYPD Officer Indicted By Grand Jury For Unarmed Man's Death

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/385537498/385537499" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
NYPD Officer Indicted By Grand Jury For Unarmed Man's Death

Law

NYPD Officer Indicted By Grand Jury For Unarmed Man's Death

NYPD Officer Indicted By Grand Jury For Unarmed Man's Death

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/385537498/385537499" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Officer Peter Liang faces multiple counts, including manslaughter, for shooting Akai Gurley, an unarmed 28-year-old black man, during a routine patrol in November.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The NYPD officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in a dark stairwell last year has been indicted on six counts, including manslaughter. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Officer Peter Liang and his partner were both rookies in the NYPD. They were patrolling the dimly-lit stairwell of a high-rise public housing project in Brooklyn last November when police say a shot was accidentally fired from Liang's gun. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson says the bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the chest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KENNETH THOMPSON: We don't believe that officer Liang intended to kill Mr. Gurley. But he had his finger on the trigger, and he fired the gun.

ROSE: The charges in the indictment unsealed today include second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Thompson says Officer Liang and his partner did not immediately report the shot to their superiors as they're supposed to.

THOMPSON: The evidence shows that after the shot was fired, they remained on the eighth floor and argued about the officer's refusal to call the shot in - and argued for at least four minutes after they heard the sound of folks running away, after the shot was fired.

ROSE: This case has been under extra scrutiny because of another civilian death involving the NYPD. In that case, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by police. The officer caught on cell phone video in that incident was white. By contrast, there's no video of the shooting by Officer Liang, who is Asian-American. Mayor Bill de Blasio says the two cases should be considered separately.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: I think that each case is individual, and I think people understand that. I think that folks at the NYPD look at each case individually as well.

ROSE: But to some, the deaths of Akai Gurley and Eric Garner are symptoms of a larger issue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGER WAREHAM: We're dealing with a systemic problem. That's why the Akai Gurley case is about Akai Gurley, but it's also about the way that the NYPD perceives and treats black people.

ROSE: Roger Wareham is a lawyer for Melissa Butler. She was a friend of Akai Gurley who was with him in the stairwell the night he was shot. Butler did not speak to reporters today, but Wareham says she's gratified by the indictment against Officer Liang. And he hopes it will change the way the NYPD operates in black communities.

WAREHAM: Because it may give somebody pause the next time to know that there's a possibility that they may go to jail.

ROSE: At the housing complex where Akai Gurley died, reaction to the indictment was mostly favorable. Levon Walker says he's glad the police will be held accountable for Gurley's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEVON WALKER: He's visiting his family - like, that didn't make any sense. Like, that could happen to any one of us. I got a son, and that could've been my son that got shot like that. That wasn't justified, and it wasn't fair.

ROSE: Resident Melissa Bonia agrees that the grand jury did the right thing. But she also has sympathy for Officer Liang and his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELISSA BONIA: 'Cause, you know, the police officer was doing his job. And he may not have made the right decision at the time but, you know, now it ruined his life, and he also ruined Gurley's family's life, you know?

ROSE: Officer Liang pleaded not guilty to the charges. In a statement, the head of the police officers union says Liang deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another. Akai Gurley's domestic partner plans to file a civil suit against Liang, the NYPD and the city. Joel Rose NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.