The NYPD officer who shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the stairwell of his East New York apartment complex last November pled not guilty to second degree manslaughter and was released without bail. "Akai did not die in vain," Gurley's aunt, Hertenceia Peterson, told reporters after Officer Peter Liang's arraignment earlier this afternoon. "My nephew's life was sacrificial. Now changes will occur."
Peterson also dismissed the idea that Liang was justified in conducting the patrol of the Pink Houses with his gun drawn. "If you are afraid, you should not put yourself in that position," she said.
At a press conference, Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson said that Liang and his partner engaged in a four-minute "discussion" after the fatal shot was fired. "Officer Liang, during that discussion with his partner, refused to call" for help, Thompson said.
Gurley laid on the ground for "at least ten minutes" before receiving any medical attention, Thompson added.
Asked whether Liang's struggle with the doorknob caused him to fire, Tompson replied, "All of this is going to come out at trial. But I will tell you that there is no evidence that the shooting occurred because of a doorknob. We know that in order to fire the gun you need a certain amount of pressure to put on the gun. So we do not believe he intended to kill Akai Gurley, but Akai Gurley was killed."
Thompson denied that his office sought an indictment of Liang from a grand jury because the Staten Island grand jury declined to do the same in Eric Garner's case.
"There was no agenda," Thompson said.
Thompson's office will have to prove that Officer Liang understood the danger he posed by using his service weapon to open a door inside the stairwell, and consciously disregarded that danger in a "substantial and unjustifiable" way.
Liang is also charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide, one count of second degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment, and two counts of official misconduct.
Reporting by Abigail Rowe