A New York City police officer was convicted of manslaughter on Thursday for fatally shooting an unarmed Black man in a darkened public housing stairwell in 2014.
A jury in Brooklyn found Peter Liang guilty in connection with the death of Akai Gurley, 28, who was killed by a bullet fired from Liang’s gun on Nov. 20, 2014, that ricocheted off a wall.
Liang, a rookie cop at the time, was on patrol inside a Brooklyn public housing project with his partner and drew his gun upon entering a pitch-black stairwell.
He fired a single bullet that glanced off a wall and into the chest of Gurley, who was walking one floor below.
At trial, Liang, 28, testified that a sudden noise startled him, causing his finger to slip onto the trigger and fire the gun. It was only after descending the stairs, Liang said, that he realized the errant bullet had hit Gurley.
“Oh my god, someone’s hit,” a tearful Liang recalled saying upon finding a bleeding Gurley lying on a landing, as his girlfriend frantically tried to revive him.
But prosecutors argued that Liang fired toward the sound deliberately and that he must have known only another person could have caused the noise that surprised him.
“It was a tragedy, but justice was done,” Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson told the television station NY1. “What we saw today is that people from all walks of life came together here in Brooklyn to affirm that Akai Gurley’s life did matter.”
The shooting added to nationwide protests in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, over the use of police force against minorities, though Liang, a Chinese-American, was not accused of deliberately killing Gurley.
Activists on Twitter cheered the verdict, with many saying it was an important first step in holding officers accountable. Organizers had already called for a demonstration on Friday at police headquarters regardless of the trial’s outcome.