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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Not-Guilty Plea From Cop on Manslaughter Charge

BROOKLYN (CN) - A police officer who fatally shot a man in the hallway of a poorly lit East New York housing complex pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter.

Peter Liang was released without bail by Justice Danny Chun in Brooklyn Supreme Criminal Court for the shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley at the Louis H. Pink Houses on Nov. 20, 2014.

Speaking before a packed courtroom that included several of Gurley's family members, prosecutor Marc Fliedner quoted what Liang allegedly told his partner after the shooting - "I'm going to be fired."

Though "there was absolutely no threat to" the officer, and in violation of "sound, smart protocol," Liang, now 27, pulled out his 9 mm glock with his left hand and opened fire down a dark hallway of the apartment complex, Fliedner said.

The bullet ricocheted off a concrete wall and hit Gurley in the heart, Fliedner said.

Liang's attorney Stephen Worth said the charges against the rookie officer presented a "contorted theory of misconduct" to prejudice him because of his badge.

After Liang was released on his own recognizance, Gurley's family shouted at him, "The whole damn system is guilty as hell."

Several attendees followed Liang out of court with shouts of "murderer" as the officer passed through a crush of reporters and photographers to a black van that whisked him away.

About a dozen protesters had surrounded the courthouse before the short hearing, holding signs saying, "We are members of the community you serve. We are not enemy combatants," and "Indict the whole system."

Gurley's partner, Kim Ballinger, the mother of Gurley's toddler, has filed a notice of claim against the city and the Housing Authority. The order to show cause does not specify a damages amount, but media reports claim she's seeking $50 million.

The case comes on the heels of mass protests across the nation after a Staten Island jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the videotaped chokehold death of Eric Garner. It also follows the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. There, a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson.

In December, NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were executed while they sat in their car.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a target of critical protest by police in the wake of those shootings, stayed neutral in his statement.

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

Communities for Police Reform went a bit further.

"Today's indictment is a first step towards justice and a divergence from the usual failures of our justice system in cases of police officers who kill unarmed people of color, but it does not equal accountability since it is only the first phase of the process," the group's spokeswoman Joo-Hyun Kang said in a statement.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson meanwhile praised police.

"NYPD Officers bravely put their lives on the line every day in service to New York," Thompson said in a statement after the hearing. "At no time was this more evident than when several officers responded to a shooting at the Pink Houses. As they always do, officers rushed in ... to assist. When the officers saw Mr. Gurley, they immediately dropped to their knees and attempted to render aid to save Mr. Gurley's life."

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