The trial of NYPD Officer Peter Liang who was charged last February with manslaughter in the November 20, 2014 fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, began Monday before Justice Danny K. Chun in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
Gurley was walking unarmed with his girlfriend Melissa Butler in the stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses (2724 Linden Blvd) in East New York when Officer Liang who was patrolling the housing project stairwell, across 28-year-old Gurley and shot him in the chest.
Speaking in his opening statement in the manslaughter trial of Liang, the prosecutor accused the rookie New York Police officer of recklessly shooting into a dark stairwell “for no reason” that night in November 2014.
“Then, instead of doing all that he could to help Akai Gurley, he wasted precious time arguing with his partner about calling for help,” Assistant District Attorney Marc Fliedner, who is chief of the civil rights bureau at the Brooklyn DA’s office told jurors. “In fact, instead of calling for help, he just stood there and whined and moaned about how he would get fired.”
Gurley was shot in the chest and later died at the hospital. The next day, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton told reporters the 28-year-old was “a total innocent” who fell victim to “a very unfortunate tragedy … involving an accidental discharge.”
As they made their case Monday, prosecutors played a 911 recording of neighbor Melissa Lopez shouting CPR guidelines to Gurley’s girlfriend as he lay bleeding on the ground. In the recording, Lopez tells the dispatcher she sees numerous police officers, but no paramedics, at the scene.
“Let me ask you something, are the cops assisting her?” the EMS dispatcher asks her.
“They’re right here. They’re not with her. They’re trying to, I guess, call back up? I don’t know,” the caller replies.
Following the instructions of an emergency medical operator, Lopez grabbed a bath towel from her apartment and handed it to Butler, then relayed instruction to hr on how to perform CPR.
If he’s convicted of second-degree manslaughter, the Chinese-American officer could face up to 15 years in prison. At the time of his indictment, the head of the police union said he deserved due process.
“The fact that he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident,” union chief Patrick Lynch said.
Lopez’s husband, Miguel Rivera, was standing next to Liang and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau and neither cop was helping, prosecutors said.
Rivera testified Tuesday that he and his wife were startled by a “loud bang” that “echoed” through the building on the day Gurley was shot.
“We heard a knock at the door, saw Ms. Butler say ‘I need help.’ She put her hands up, they were full of blood,” said Rivera.
“She was hysterical, crying, upset,” he said.
“My partner and I arrived within two minutes … When I got to the fifth floor I seen a woman performing CPR on Mr. Gurley,” Officer Salvatore Tramontana said. “I stepped in.”
Before Tramontana arrived, Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, was trying to perform CPR on Gurley, prosecutors said.
She was receiving instructions from Melissa Lopez, a neighbor on the fourth floor who called 911 for help.
Liang’s defense team hopes to convince jurors that the rookie officer — who had less than a year on the job — had his weapon out because he was entering the stairwell that was poorly lit on his way to patrol the roof of the building on Linden Blvd.
Prosecutors showed a videotape taken the day after the shooting that showed the pitch-dark stairwell, which had no working lights on the 7th and 8th floors.
Members of Akai Gurley’s family briefly addressed the press, outside the courthouse Monday. “Peter Liang, you don’t live in public housing, but people do. Why would you have your gun out in a place where people live?” asked Gurley’s cousin Mesha Joseph. “Why were you scared in a place where people live? Scared enough to have your weapon drawn?”
Stay tuned to BW for continuous coverage of the Trial of Officer Liang in the fatal killing of Akai Gurley.