Civil Liberties

Political, Public Pressure to Prosecute in Brooklyn "Accidental" Police Shooting of Black Man in Dark Stairwell


Associated Press reports on some political pressure to actually hold accountable legally the police office Peter Liang who shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project. By police accounts, the officer and his partner were not investigating any specific violent crime, merely on patrol.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton described the killing as "accidental" but doesn't seem to be claiming the gun went off by, say, the officer accidentally dropping it.

The officer, the facts of how guns work suggest, had drawn his gun, had his finger on the trigger, and pulled it, in the direction of things and people he could not see and said nothing to, by available accounts of the killing. This makes "accident" a perhaps infelicitous way to describe what happened, even if Liang did not knowingly and willingly intend to kill Gurley, who had done nothing criminal or threatening prior to the killing.

After the city's medical examiner's office declared the incident a "homicide"—merely meaning the death of a human caused by the action of another human being, not in itself with any specific legal implications—local politicians are calling for more action than just a shrug and an "it was an accident," Associated Press reports:

City Councilwoman Inez Barron and Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron met with officials in the Brooklyn district attorney's office on Monday. Afterward, Charles Barron told reporters he thought the shooting of Akai Gurley last week warrants a criminal charge for Officer Peter Liang.

He said Liang's use of a police weapon "was reckless endangerment, it was criminally negligent homicide."

Whether charges are filed would be up to Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who has called the shooting "deeply troubling" and said it warrants "an immediate, fair and thorough investigation." His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday….

Liang, 26, has been placed on modified duty. Under standard policy, police internal affairs investigators won't be able to question him until prosecutors have decided whether to file criminal charges.