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Woman Sues NYPD Officer Over Boyfriend’s Death

BROOKLYN (CN) - The girlfriend of Akai Gurley, the unarmed young father shot to death by a rookie officer in the dark stairwell of a housing project, filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the officer recently convicted of manslaughter.

Melissa Butler sued Peter Liang and his partner who was there during the shooting, Shaun Landau, along with the city of New York and the New York City Housing Authority in New York Supreme Court in Kings County.

During Liang's highly watched and emotional trial that saw Liang break down while he testified, the jury learned that the two were working "vertical patrol" at the notorious Pink Houses in East New York in November 2014 when Liang fired his gun into the dark stairwell.

The bullet ricocheted and hit Gurley, a 28-year-old father with a young daughter, in the heart. Prosecutors told jurors that instead of administering first aid to Gurley, they fretted about their futures in the force as newbies.

Liang had insisted during his trial that he did not initially know that he hit anybody, but also admitted that he did not radio for help, check Gurley's pulse or try CPR.

Gurley's girlfriend Butler, who lives in Brooklyn, asked her neighbor to call the police while she performed CPR on Gurley.

Butler says in her lawsuit that she was hauled into the police station and questioned for several hours before being told by an officer that Liang had fatally shot her boyfriend.

She challenges police practices of patrolling housing projects, and says "there had been no reports of any disturbance which warranted a police presence" at the building.

Butler also says Liang violated New York City Police Department procedures by having his weapon out, keeping his finger on the trigger, firing into an area where he couldn't see anything and not giving first aid to Gurley as he was dying.

The New York City Housing Authority is also named as a defendant for failing to properly light the public areas of the building and for not making sure the elevator worked properly.

Gurley's death set off a series of protests in the city amid the similarly timed announcements that grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York would not be indicting the police officers who killed unarmed black men in those cities.

"It is believed that plaintiff's mistreatment was due to her race," Butler says in her 14-page lawsuit.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Liang was suspended after the shooting, and Landau was fired from the force hours after a jury found Liang guilty of manslaughter on Feb. 12. Landau was granted immunity in the case.

That same day, protests were staged at the NYPD headquarters in Lower Manhattan to stop the department's "vertical patrol" program.

Butler seeks compensatory damages in excess of $100,000. She is represented by Roger S. Wareham in Brooklyn.

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