Jury to weigh Brooklyn stairway shooting: deadly accident or callous killing?

Officer Liang is charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other counts for the death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley in Nov 2014.

Jennifer Peltz/AP
Sylvia Palmer, mother of Akai Gurley, speaks outside state Supreme Court in the Brooklyn borough of New York Monday, after hearing NYPD Officer Peter Liang testify about Mr. Gurley's 2014 death in a housing project stairwell. Lawyers for Mr. Liang say the evidence doesn't meet legal requirements for the charges, which accuse him of disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious injury or death, and have asked the judge to dismiss the case.

Jurors are set to begin deliberations in the trial of a rookie police officer who shot an unarmed black man in a dark public housing stairwell, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Peter Liang took the stand on Monday, telling jurors, in an emotional testimony, that what happened was a deadly accident. But the prosecutors have called it manslaughter, saying that Officer Liang acted recklessly, and did not make an effort to help a dying man when he fatally shot Akai Gurley on the night of Nov. 20, 2014.

The shooting added to mounting tensions around police shootings of unarmed victims, especially in black neighborhoods. Several cases have prompted federal civil rights reviews from the US Justice Department.

Liang is charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless endangerment, and official misconduct.

Liang and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau – both new to the force – were patrolling a darkened stairwell of a housing project, when a loud, startling sound prompted Liang to pull the trigger accidentally on his service pistol, inadvertently shooting Mr. Gurley.

The officer told the jury he had no idea anyone had been hurt. “I just turned, and the gun went off," Liang recounted the events, saying that his body "tensed up."

He realized that he had shot somebody when he heard a crying sound and followed the sound down three flights and saw Gurley lying wounded. Liang acknowledged that he didn't immediately report the incident, as he feared he would lose his job. Liang and his partner argued about who should report the incident, but did not offer Gurley medical aid, a move prosecutors have questioned, and sought to show that he had been trained in handling firearms and unexpected, risky situations.

Gurley's relatives called for Liang to be held accountable for what they see as a callous killing. "Peter Liang walked away and left Akai to die in his own blood," said Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer.

This report contains materials from the Associated Press.

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