A jury on Thursday found a rookie New York police officer guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed black man – an incident that fuelled US protests against police tactics.
Peter Liang now faces up to 15 years in prison for the death of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old father who was struck in the chest by a bullet that ricocheted off the wall in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing project.
The jury found 28-year-old Liang guilty of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct after a two-week trial in Brooklyn, prosecutors said. The jury had begun deliberations on Tuesday.
Sentencing was set for April 14.
“Today’s verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed that night,” said Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson.
The trial was a rare case of a US police officer criminally charged for opening fire, and comes at a time when departments are under scrutiny for the shootings of unarmed suspects, many of them black, and other alleged brutalities.
The Chinese-American police officer and his partner had been on a routine patrol of Louis H Pink Houses when the incident occurred.
Liang left the roof and walked down the stairs to the eighth floor. Gurley was shot as he stepped into the stairwell, where the lights were not working.
Poor maintenance is a routine problem in housing projects, run by local authorities for residents who cannot afford market-rate rent.
During the trial, prosecutor Marc Fliedner said Liang “fired for no reason” then “wasted precious time arguing with his partner,” worried that he would be sacked.
He did not call his superior officer as he was required to do. Nor did he call for an ambulance and neither was he supposed to have his finger on the trigger under police procedure, the prosecutor said.
‘It was an accident’
Defense lawyer Rae Koshetz, meanwhile, painted a picture of a young officer who turned into a “wreck” too traumatised to communicate after realising he had accidentally shot someone.
“This is not a referendum on policing in the United States,” she told jurors. “It was an accident.”
Liang had been on the job just 11 months before the shooting.
He testified that his gun went off accidentally and that he didn’t realise someone was below him in the stairwell.
Two high-profile deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in the summer of 2014 sparked mass protests against police tactics and accusations of racism.
Eric Garner, 43, died after New York police put him in a chokehold, while Michael Brown, 18, was fatally shot by a white police officer in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.
The shooting of Gurley came only a few months later, on November 20, 2014.
The jury was made up of seven women and five men, and was majority white. Only one member of the jury was black.
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