NYPD Officer Indicted in Killing of Unarmed Black Man Akai Gurley in Public Housing Stairwell

Human Rights

An NYPD officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed 28-year-old black man, in Brooklyn last year has been indicted, according to a lawyer for Gurley’s family.

Scott Rynecki, who is representing Gurley’s partner Kimberly Ballinger, told the Guardian that NYPD officer Peter Liang will be arraigned in court at 2pm on Wednesday.

The Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), a union representing rank and file NYPD officers, confirmed they had been notified by the district attorney’s office of the indictment. Laing will have PBA representatives with him at his arraignment on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the union confirmed.

The nature of the charges is unclear at present. Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney who convened a grand jury following his department’s investigation into the death, said in a statement that he would not comment on the matter until after Wednesday’s arraignment. He said the grand jury decision will remained sealed.

Gurley was shot dead in November as he descended the darkened stairwell of a block in the Louis Pink Houses project in East New York. Police maintain that Liang fired accidentally. But community members and local politicians have asked why the officer was patrolling the project with his gun unholstered.

“This officer deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another. The fact the he was assigned to patrol one most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident,” said PBA president Patrick Lynch.

The National Action Network (NAN), the organisation headed by the Rev Al Sharpton, who were joined by Gurley’s family at a national march in Washington, said they were pleased by the announcement.

“NAN has supported [Gurley’s girlfriend] Kimberly Ballinger and the child of Akai Gurley since the unarmed young black man was killed and we are pleased that the process will now allow for a fair and impartial hearing.”

The decision to indict the officer responsible for Gurley’s death bucks a nationwide trend, which has recent seen grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City decline to indict officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner - both unarmed black men.

The decisions in these cases sparked nationwide protest against perceived police impunity.

The New York City police commissioner, Bill Bratton, said on the day after Gurley’s death that Liang’s firearm discharged accidentally during his patrol. Reports suggested that Liang contacted his police union straight after the shooting, before radioing for medical assistance.

Thompson resisted calls to hand the Gurley case over to a special prosecutor following the decisions in the Garner and Brown cases, which saw heavy criticism levelled at the district prosecutors responsible.

“I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favour, and that is exactly what I intend to do,” Thompson said in a statement at the time.

Last month both Ballinger and Rynecki expressed confidence in Thompson’s handling of the case. “We have total faith in his investigation and the way he will be presenting it to a grand jury,” Rynecki told the Guardian in January. “We think he is going to truly try and get to justice in this matter.”

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