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Officer indicted in killing of unarmed man in NYC stairwell

February 10, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — A rookie police officer who fired into a darkened stairwell at a Brooklyn public housing complex, accidentally killing a man who had been waiting for an elevator, has been indicted in his death, a lawyer said Tuesday.

Officer Peter Liang, 27, will appear in court Wednesday in the November shooting death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, according to Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Gurley’s family. The charges against Liang weren’t immediately clear.

Rynecki said the shooting was unjustified, regardless of whether it was intentional.

“This is the first step for justice,” he said.

The indictment comes at a time of uneasy peace between the nation’s largest police force and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s City Hall. A rift widened between the police and the mayor after the Garner grand jury’s decision when the police unions expressed outraged that de Blasio spoke of warning his own son, who is biracial, to be wary when dealing with police.

And when two officers were killed in an ambush weeks later, the police union leaders blamed de Blasio for fostering an anti-police atmosphere that they believed contributed to the slayings. Hundreds of officers repeatedly turned their backs on the mayor — including at the cops’ funerals — and participated in a work slowdown.

Tensions have eased somewhat in recent weeks, and de Blasio released a carefully worded statement late Tuesday after Liang’s indictment.

“No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family,” the mayor said. “We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds.”

Patrick J. Lynch, head of Liang’s police union, said he deserves due process.

“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,” Lynch said.

The indictment follows mass protests and calls for reform of the grand jury system nationwide after a Staten Island grand jury’s refusal to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man, and a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict a white officer in the death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old.

Gurley was black. Liang is Asian-American.

The last officer to be indicted in New York was Richard Haste, who was indicted on a manslaughter charge in the death of Ramarley Graham on Feb. 2, 2012, in the Bronx after a suspected drug bust gone awry. The case was tossed on a technicality, and another grand jury declined to indict the officer.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Kiley Armstrong contributed to this report.

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