NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Jury selection has begun in the trial of rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang, who is facing manslaughter charges in the stairwell shooting of Akai Gurley.
Investigators say Liang fired a single shot into a stairwell in the Pink Houses public housing development in East New York, Brooklyn. According to investigators, the bullet bounced off a wall, fatally striking 28-year-old Gurley in November 2014.
Melissa Butler, Gurley’s girlfriend at the time, was with him during the incident.
Liang’s lawyers claim the shooting was an accident. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has supported those claims, saying the stairwell was pitch black at the time of the shooting. Police sources told CBS2 that Liang was trying to open a door while holding his gun and fired by mistake.
The shooting prompted outrage from activists — including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who rallied for the police to conduct a thorough investigation before concluding the incident was an accident. Gurley’s family also announced plans to sue the city for $50 million in wake of their son’s death.
At the jury selection, dozens of potential jurors said they had heard about the largely-publicized case, with many saying they could not make an objective decision based on their pre-conceived notions of the incident, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
Some who knew nothing about the case brought up their own encounters with the police, Silverman reported. The judge challenged their assertions, asking whether or not their prior experiences would affect their ability to make unbiased decisions in this case.
Liang has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge. If convicted, Liang could face up to 15 years in prison.