Officer Indicted in Killing In Brooklyn Stairwell

NEW YORK (AP) -

A rookie police officer who fired into a darkened stairwell at a Brooklyn public housing complex, accidentally killing a man who had been waiting for an elevator, was indicted in his death on Tuesday.

Officer Peter Liang will appear in court Wednesday in the November shooting death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley. Patrick J. Lynch, head of Liang’s union, said he deserves due process.

“The fact that he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident,” Lynch said.

Liang, an Asian-American, and his African-American police partner were patrolling the Louis Pink Houses, a public housing development in Brooklyn’s gritty East New York neighborhood, on Nov. 20. The NYPD assigns rookie officers as reinforcements in parts of the city that have seen increases in crime. The housing project had been the scene of a recent shooting, robberies and assaults.

The officers had descended onto an eighth-floor landing when, 14 steps away, Gurley, an African-American, opened a door into the seventh-floor landing after giving up on the elevator. The lights were burned out in the stairwell, leaving it “pitch black” and prompting both officers to use flashlights.

Liang, for reasons unclear, also had his gun drawn. He was about 10 feet from Gurley when, without a word and apparently by accident, he fired a shot.

Gurley was struck in the chest. He made it down two flights of stairs after he was shot, but he collapsed on the fifth-floor landing and lost consciousness. Gurley was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.

The indictment comes at a time of uneasy peace between the nation’s largest police force and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s City Hall. Tensions have eased somewhat in recent weeks, and de Blasio released a carefully worded statement late Tuesday after Liang’s indictment.

“No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family,” the mayor said. “We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”