In a rare conviction, NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted this week for the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley. Liang was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct.
Some are calling the verdict “shocking” and claim that it shows how much the public’s opinion on police killings has changed in the last 2 years. Liang is the first NYPD officer to be convicted of a police-involved shooting in a decade. He is the second police officer to be convicted in the United States this year, with Daniel Holzclaw convicted last month for the rape and assault of eight African American women.
Akai Gurley was killed by a ricocheted bullet as he was walking down a housing project stairwell. Officer Liang and his partner were walking the stairwells on vertical patrols, which consist of officers patrolling stairwells in high-crime buildings with their guns out. Liang heard a noise during the patrol and fired his gun. The bullet he fired ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley in the heart. The NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton claimed that the show was an “accidental discharge.”
According to Gurley’s girlfriend, who was present at the time of the shooting, Liang did not offer to help after Gurley was shot, hence the charges of misconduct. According to NY Daily News, Liang was instead texting his union rep. For six and a half minutes after the shooting, Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were incommunicado. The defense argued that Liang was in shock and didn’t feel qualified to perform CPR.
Vertical patrols are highly criticized, even more so since the death of Akai Gurley, due to the split second decisions officers have to make in dark, tight spaces, where visibility is often very low. According to NYCLU Executive Director Donn Lieberman, “There have been long standing concerns about how vertical patrols have been carried out over the years and many complaints of mistreatment of public housing residents.”
The jury, a panel of seven men and five women, deliberated for two days before delivering the verdict. One juror called it a “very hard decision.”
Liang remains free on bail until sentencing on April 14. He faces up to 15 years in prison.