After the failure to indict a NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, several activists and elected officials were delighted to learn that Peter Liang, the officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley in East New York in November, has been indicted by a grand jury.
“This is the first step in the fight for justice for this wrongful death,” said Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s domestic partner. The counsel for the family was formerly the embattled Sanford Rubenstein, and Rynecki is a partner in the firm.
Officer Liang, 27, a rookie, has been indicted on second degree manslaughter, which means he acted recklessly and could face up to 15 years in prison.
A quick response came from Patrick Lynch, President of the Police Benevolent Association, who stated that “This officer deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another. The fact that he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident.”
Gurley, 28, was shot and killed on a dark stairwell in the Louis Pink Houses. According to the NYPD, Liang was holding his gun in the same hand he was using to open a door when the gun went off. Gurley was moving down the stairwell with his girlfriend after they discovered the elevator wasn’t working. He was unarmed.
“The effort to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community necessarily involves holding an officer accountable when an innocent life is taken and a law is broken,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of the 8th District in Brooklyn. “The indictment is a meaningful step in the right direction in the march toward justice for the family of Akai Gurley. District Attorney Thompson should be commended for proceeding with this case on the basis of the law and the facts.”
There was no comment from Thompson’s office.
Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director of the National Action Network, where Ballinger has spoken several times, often in tow with Gurley and her daughter, said the “National Action Network (NAN) is pleased by the announcement that NYPD officer Peter Liang will be charged with the death of Akai Gurley. NAN has supported 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.
“Unlike the case in Staten Island,” Foy continued, “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.”
Gurley was an aspiring actor and on the verge of landing a job with the city.