On Tuesday, a jury heard closing arguments in the manslaughter trial of rookie NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who fatally shot an unarmed black man in a dimly lit stairwell in Brooklyn two years ago. The defense and prosecution rested their cases on Monday.
Liang, 28, faces charges of second-degree manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault, and official misconduct in the killing of Akai Gurley, who was 28 at the time of his death. If convicted of the charges, the officer could spend up to 15 years in prison.
Speaking softly into a microphone, Liang took the witness stand on Monday and tearfully recalled the moment in November 2014 that he entered the Louis H. Pink Houses in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York.
He had only been 18 months on the job at the time of the incident. Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were conducting a routine patrol of the housing project at around 11pm on the night of the incident. They had finished inspecting the roof and had proceeded to inspect the staircases from above.
As he and Landau walked downward, Liang had his weapon drawn. As they proceeded, he noticed that the stairwell beyond the door to the eighth floor was “pitch black,” so he drew his firearm as a precaution. He explained in court that the roof and upper areas are typically the most dangerous to patrol. He turned the handle and shoved the heavy red door with his shoulder, holding his firearm in his left hand and a flashlight in his right. As the heavy door flung open, Liang said his whole body “tensed” when he heard a loud noise on his left side, and he accidentally squeezed the trigger on his firearm.
The bullet ricocheted off the wall and fatally struck Gurley in the chest one floor down. “Oh my god,” Liang recalled saying, “someone’s hit!” Gurley made it down two flights of stairs before he collapsed.