Officer Pleads Not Guilty in Stairwell Shooting

NEW YORK (AP) -
Officer Peter Liang (L) enters a Brooklyn courtroom, Wednesday. (AP Photos/Julio Cortez - Seth Wenig)
Officer Peter Liang (L) enters a Brooklyn courtroom, Wednesday. (AP Photos/Julio Cortez – Seth Wenig)
A detective with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office inspects the stairwell at the Louis Pink Houses public housing complex where Akai Gurley was accidentally shot by Liang. (AP Photos/Julio Cortez - Seth Wenig)
A detective with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office inspects the stairwell at the Louis Pink Houses public housing complex where Akai Gurley was accidentally shot by Liang. (AP Photos/Julio Cortez – Seth Wenig)

A rookie police officer pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter, official misconduct and other charges in the shooting death of a man in a pitch-black stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex.

Officer Peter Liang appeared briefly in a Brooklyn courtroom as the charges, which also include criminally negligent homicide and assault, were unsealed in the death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley. Liang’s attorney, Stephen Worth, maintained the shooting was an accident. The officer was released without bail.

Gurley was killed on Nov. 20 while visiting the Louis Pink Houses, a public housing complex in East New York. Liang, who had been an officer for about 18 months, and his partner were patrolling the complex where reports of violent crime had spiked.

The stairwell was completely dark and Liang had his gun drawn as they descended onto an eighth-floor landing. Meanwhile, Gurley opened the door into the seventh-floor landing after giving up his wait for an elevator. Liang, gun in his left hand and a flashlight in his right, fired a shot, prosecutors said. The bullet ricocheted and struck Gurley in the chest, who made it down two flights of stairs before collapsing.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Fliedner said Liang was supposed to have kept his finger off the trigger and to the side of the weapon.

“The defendant ignored this training. … As a result, Mr. Akai Gurley is dead,” he said.

Immediately after the shooting, Fliedner said, Liang and his partner retreated to the eighth floor instead of rendering aid. Liang said to his partner: “It was an accident. I’m going to be fired.”

When other officers responded and started to help Gurley, Liang came down the stairs, but “just stood there,” Fliedner said. Gurley was taken to a hospital where he later died.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said prosecutors didn’t believe Liang intended to kill Gurley. “But he had his finger on the trigger and he fired the gun,” he said.

Worth denied that Liang did nothing after the shooting.

“It’s a tortured attempt to make the defendant look heartless. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Even before the shooting, the NYPS had been changing how it assigns and trains new officers. Under former Commissioner Raymond Kelly, rookie officers were assigned as reinforcements in crime riddled parts of the city. Under William Bratton, new officers are instead assigned mentors who are more experienced officers and rotate through different jobs at precincts.