The rookie New York City police officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project in November will be indicted with a crime related to the shooting, according to reports from several media outlets.
The 28-year-old Gurley was killed Nov. 20 by NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who was patrolling the building with his gun drawn. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton has said that Liang fired his weapon once after Gurley and his girlfriend opened a door to the stairwell, adding that Gurley was “totally innocent.”
“It has been reported that a Brooklyn grand jury has acted in this case. No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”
Citing law enforcement sources, the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, NBC 4 NY and others reported Tuesday that Liang will be indicted in relation to the shooting and is expected to turn himself in to authorities on Wednesday.
“It’s a tragic, tragic, tragic case,” Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told the New York Daily News. “I’m sad that he was indicted… I don’t know exactly what transpired in that hallway, but I believe it’s a truly accidental incident.”
Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents Liang, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that the union had not been notified of the indictment.
The Gurley shooting came as New York and much of the nation was locked in a bitter and tense public discussion about law enforcement and minority communities, spurred by the recent police killings of unarmed black men Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner on Staten Island and John Crawford in Ohio – and decisions by grand juries not to indict any of the officers involved in those cases.
For months protesters have rallied in dozens of cities demanding more police accountability and reform. The coming indictment in the Gurley shooting is the latest in a series of recent cases in which officers have faced legal repercussions for on-the-job incidents.
“We are pleased that the process will now allow for a fair and impartial hearing,” Kirsten John Foy, the northeast regional director of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said in a statement. “Unlike the case in Staten Island, this case shows the difference in a prosecutor who will respect the grand jury’s role to decide probable cause, rather than attempt to influence it. We will monitor this to make sure there is a fair process.”
Still, activists around the nation responded with conflicted stances to the early reports of an indictment, noting that an indictment in a police shooting is a grim thing to be celebrated.
“Don’t get confused about an indictment,” tweeted Dante Barry, executive director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. “That’s still not justice.”
Gurley’s family has participated in Black Lives Matter protests in New York and Washington and have filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million from New York City and the NYPD.
“The shooting death of Akai by the police was reckless and should not have happened,” said Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s domestic partner and mother of his young daughter, during a news conference in January. “Akai was a great father and a good person who didn’t deserve to die like he did.”
In December, citing NYPD sources, the New York Daily News reported that Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were not heard from by police officials for more than six minutes after the shooting. Instead of rendering first aid to Gurley, the paper reported, the officers were texting their union representatives. The impending indictment is the latest in what has been a series of legal actions taken against officers in various incidents around the country, including Albuquerque, N.M., and Philadelphia.
Activists around the country continue to await word from Cleveland, where two officers could face charges related to the November shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park near his home when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officers.
The shooting was captured on security camera footage, which also documented the officer’s failing to come to the boy’s aid for several minutes as he lay dying in the snow. Moments later, Rice’s sister ran toward his bleeding body and one of the officers tackled her into the snow before placing her in the back seat of the police cruiser that was parked next to her brother’s body.
An investigation into that shooting has been taken over by the local sheriff’s department, and is expected to be complete by early March.