NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The family of Akai Gurley says their “demands for justice will not end” following the conviction of an NYPD officer who shot the unarmed Gurley in a darkened public housing stairwell in 2014.
Officer Peter Liang was found guilty Thursday of manslaughter and official misconduct charges. Following the verdict, Liang was dismissed by the NYPD.
The judge has wide discretion when it comes to sentencing. Liang could receive no prison time or up to 15 years. His sentencing is set for April 14.
In a statement Friday, Gurley’s family said, “We have come one step closer in getting justice for Akai, and we know he will be proud that we have taken a stand for him in holding Peter Liang accountable.”
“Nobody deserved to die like Akai did, and no verdict in this world can heal our heartache or pain in losing Akai,” the statement said.
Liang said he accidentally fired his drawn weapon after being startled by a noise while conducting a vertical patrol in a pitch black stairwell at the Pink Houses in East New York on Nov. 20, 2014.
The shot ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley, who had decided to take the stairs with his girlfriend instead of waiting for an elevator.
Prosecutors said Liang handled his gun recklessly and did almost nothing to help Gurley. The defense said the fatal shooting was an accident, not a crime.
Speaking exclusively with CBS2’s Jessica Schneider, Liang’s mother Fanny said her son decided to become a cop at the age of 5 when a robber took a gold chain from her neck.
She said her son pledged to protect his family and his community. The conviction has brought deep despair to the Liang household.
“I feel so. I see my son so very upset. Me so really upset,” his mother, who speaks limited English, said in an outpouring of grief.
Fanny said her son hadn’t been eating or sleeping because of the angst he felt since November 2014 when he said he mistakenly fired the shot that killed Gurley.
Liang buried his head in his hands as the jury convicted him of manslaughter.
“He’s very upset too. He’d rather the bullet hit himself instead of Akai Gurley,” she said in Chinese.
Liang’s mother came to New York from China in 1983 and still wants to believe in the American dream.
“She still loves America. What happened is not justice, but it does not change what she feels about America,” she said speaking Chinese.
Liang’s partner, Officer Shaun Landau, testified in the case and was not charged. The NYPD fired Landau on Friday, but Gurley’s family said he should also be held accountable.
“Peter Liang’s partner, Officer Shaun Landau, should not have been given immunity, also should be fired for letting Akai lay there to die,” they said before police announced his firing.
Police said Landau was fired due to his probationary status at the time of the shooting. The decision was at the discretion of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, police told CBS2.
The shooting happened in a year of debate nationwide about police killings of black men. 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 on Staten Island. Like Gurley, Brown and Garner were black and unarmed. Liang is Chinese-American.
“There are many more police officers who need to be held accountable, and we hope this case will send a message to all NYPD officers and police departments around the country and around the world that they can’t kill and get away with it anymore,” Gurley’s family said in the statement.”The people being brutalized and killed are Black, Latino, working class, LGBTQ, homeless, immigrant, Muslim, Arab, South Asian and enough is enough.”
The family said they “want justice beyond the courtroom” including policy changes at the NYPD.
“We lost Akai over one year ago, when Officer Liang fired the bullet that killed him and he and Officer Landau didn’t do anything to save his life,” they said. “Since that night, and long before that night, too many others have fallen victim to police violence.”
The family is demanding that the NYPD “permanently end all vertical patrols and stop using the NYPD as your security” and divert funds that they said paid for additional officers in 2016 to invest in “critical resources into real affordable housing for the working-class, community centers, and after-school programs.
“Though Liang has been found guilty, we want to make sure that his sentencing is heavy and that there is no appeal,” the statement continued. “We will continue to struggle and ensure that Peter Liang and Shaun Landau are held accountable.”
The mayor said the city won’t do away with vertical patrols.
“Vertical patrols are required as far as keeping our public housing residents safe, but we have to do them the right way,” de Blasio said.
Gurley’s family is also suing the city of Liang’s training.
Following Liang’s conviction Thursday, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said they were “very disappointed in the verdict and believe that the jury came to an absolutely wrong decision.”
“This bad verdict will have a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident,” he said.
Added Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association: “Police officers get split-second opportunities to make decisions, and it’s pretty clear from what I can see that this was a purely accidental shooting.”
State Assemblyman William Colton said he was “greatly concerned” that Liang “has been made a scapegoat for the failings of many others in government which are a much more real cause to this tragic death.”
Liang’s lawyers also said they struggled to understand how the jury could find him guilty in a shooting he said happened accidentally in a pitch-dark stairway.
“If that’s not a time to pull out your gun, I don’t know when is,” said defense lawyer Robert Brown. He said Liang, who remains free on bail, would appeal.
When asked whether he agrees with the police union’s suggestion that the verdict will have a negative consequence on police work, Mayor Bill de blasio said he didn’t think so, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
“I don’t believe it will have a chilling effect. We are again, training our officers better than before, giving them more technology than ever before,” he said. “The jury has spoken here. We respect the judicial process. Most important, I want to say to the family of Akai Gurley, I hope this brings them a sense of closure.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said the case was about holding an officer accountable for recklessness and dismissed any suggestion that it was part of a larger anti-police movement.
“There’s no message here. This has nothing to do with Ferguson or Staten Island or Baltimore or Cleveland or any other place,” he said. “This is about who we are in Brooklyn and what we stand for.”
In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New Yorkers of Chinese ancestry gathered Friday to discuss what to do in the wake of the verdict, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
“It’s insulting,” said Yu Ting Fang, of Midtown. “The verdict is insulting.”
“So many police officers have caused so many brutal acts of violence against civilians, but this was an accident,” said Yan Sun, of Flushing, Queens.
Even outside the Pink Houses, there was some ambivalence the day after the verdict.
“They’re placing all the blame on one man, and perhaps it’s not one man’s fault,” said Avery Robinson, of East New York.
While Liang’s trial unfolded, city officers Patrick Espeut and Diara Cruz were shot and wounded during a similar stairwell patrol in a different public housing complex. The gunman later killed himself.
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