NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Elected officials say prosecutors should charge a police officer who killed an unarmed man in a dark public housing stairwell in Brooklyn.
The New York City medical examiner’s office has ruled the death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley a homicide. The medical examiner said Gurley died from a single bullet to the torso.
“The manner of death in this case means that death resulted in whole or in part from the actions of another person or persons and not from natural causes such as disease,” the medical examiner said in a statement. “The classification does not imply any statement about intent or culpability.”
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s civil rights unit is investigating the case. Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, the only civilian witness in the case, told her account to prosecutors Monday morning, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
City Councilwoman Inez Barron and Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron also met Monday with officials in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
Afterward, Barron told reporters he thinks the shooting warrants a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
“There’s no reason for his gun to be out of his holster. This was not an accident, it was a crime. It was reckless endangerment, it was criminally negligent homicide,” Barron said. “I am not calling for peace and calm. I’m calling for us to rise up and for us to demand justice.”
Meanwhile, a memorial continues to grow for Gurley at the Pink Houses housing complex in East New York.
Police have said the fatal shooting Thursday night appears accidental. The Rev. Al Sharpton and others are calling for a full investigation into what happened.
“They are saying it was an accident,” Sharpton said. “We’re saying, ‘How do we know until there is a thorough investigation?'”
Sharpton spoke at a rally in Harlem on Saturday, standing alongside Gurley’s 2-year-old daughter, her mother and several elected officials.
“We’re not demonizing the police,” Sharpton said, but “this young man should not be dead.”
Gurley’s sister clutched his 2-year-old daughter and pleaded for justice in the case.
“I’ve lost my brother,” Akisha Pringle said. “I’ll never be able to see him again or kiss him or hug him again.”
But the call for criminal charges is far from universal. Community activist Tony Herbert told CBS2’s Lou Young he doesn’t want Liang arrested.
“I think he needs to lose his job. I don’t think he needs to go to jail. I doubt that he went into that staircase saying ‘I’m going to shoot this guy,'” Herbert said.
Herbert said Barron’s statements were irresponsible, Young reported.
“The comments, I think are inflammatory. I think it’s going push the wrong people out there to do stupid things; it’s going to cause innocent people to go to jail and innocent people to get hurt,” he said.
Police said rookie Officer Peter Liang and his partner, also new to the force, were patrolling the stairwell between the seventh and eighth floors when the shooting occurred.
Gurley was leaving his girlfriend’s apartment after she had braided his hair, according to the girlfriend, who is not his daughter’s mother.
Police said the officers walked down the stairs onto an eighth-floor landing when Gurley and his girlfriend opened a stairwell door one floor down, after giving up on waiting for an elevator.
Police said Liang, patrolling with his gun drawn, fired without a word and apparently by accident, hitting Gurley from a distance of about 10 feet. It’s still not clear why Liang had his weapon drawn.
“We leave that decision as to when to take a firearm out at the discretion of the officer,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said last week.
Barron, however, argued Monday there was no reason for Liang’s pistol to be drawn and that doing so violated police policy.
Barron called the shooting a “crime” and said the police commissioner should be fired, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reports.
“Bratton must go,” Barron said. “He’s here to protect killer cops and all of those officials.”
As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported, NYPD officers conduct training sessions in a dark stairwell at a mock housing complex.
“It’s a video game, hooked up to machine with a gun, which is a fake gun, and then you’re placed in these circumstances and what have you when you would actually be a police officer and have to go ahead and facilitate the duties of a police officer,” community advocate Tony Herbert told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
Bratton called Gurley’s death a tragedy that befell someone “totally innocent.”
Liang, 26, has been placed on modified duty. Under standard policy, police internal affairs investigators won’t be able to question him until prosecutors have decided whether to file criminal charges.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has called the shooting “deeply troubling” and said it warrants “an immediate, fair and thorough investigation.”
“District Attorney Thompson will let the facts and the evidence and the law guide his office into doing the right thing,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn/Queens. “The community is sick and tired of being sick and tired of these types of instances of police violence.”
Barron organized a protest march of about 200 people on Saturday evening from the shooting scene to the police department office that patrols housing developments.
In a statement, march organizers said there was nothing accidental about Gurley’s shooting.
“This is the deadly consequence of the increasing militarization of the police, from New York City to Ferguson and beyond,” they said.
The Brooklyn district attorney didn’t offer any time table for the completion of the investigation, Young reported.
Gurley’s death comes at a sensitive time in New York. On Staten Island, a grand jury is weighing whether to bring criminal charges against another officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
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