Medical Examiner rules East New York police shooting death a homicide

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Darla Miles is in East New York with the latest details in the Brooklyn police-involved shooting investigation. (WABC)

Prosecutors should charge a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in a dark public housing stairwell, elected officials said Monday after the medical examiner announced that the death was ruled a homicide.



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 28-year-old 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.

In ruling the death a homicide, the city's medical examiner's office said its finding that Gurley's death "resulted in full or in part from the actions of another person or persons," a gunshot wound to the torso, "does not imply any statement about intent or culpability."

"The evaluation of the legal implications of this classification is a function of the district attorney and the criminal justice system," the medical examiner said in a statement.

Liang and his partner, both rookie officers, were patrolling a pitch-dark stairwell with flashlights late Thursday when Gurley was shot, police said.

Police said the officers walked down the stairs onto an eighth-floor landing. Gurley and his girlfriend opened a stairwell door one floor down after giving up on waiting for an elevator. Police said Liang, patrolling with his gun drawn, fired without a word and apparently by accident, hitting Gurley from a distance of about 10 feet.

Charles Barron said the officers were "well trained" to keep their gun in their holster when there was no apparent danger.

"When you pull your gun out and there's no danger, then you have violated (New York Police Department) policy," he said. "And if you discharge that weapon, you did it deliberately because you were scared."

Instead, he said, the officer should have pulled out only his flashlight and spoken to Gurley and his girlfriend.

In addition, he said another NYPD policy was violated when the two rookies were sent out on patrol, instead of an experienced officer who could guide a rookie.

Police Commissioner William Bratton previously called the shooting in Brooklyn's gritty East New York neighborhood an apparent accident that claimed a "totally innocent" life.

Gurley's death comes at a sensitive time in New York. On Staten Island, a grand jury is weighing whether to bring criminal charges against another officer in a chokehold death.

City police often conduct "vertical patrols" inside public housing by going from roofs down staircases that sometimes are havens for crime. Bratton has said the patrols are needed, and the development where Gurley was shot had recently seen a shooting, robberies and assaults.

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.

Mayor Bill de Blasio met with some of Gurley's relatives Friday evening. His office declined to comment on the medical examiner's findings.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at a rally in Harlem Saturday, standing alongside Gurley's 2-year-old daughter, her mother and several elected officials.

"We're not demonizing the police," Sharpton said, but "this young man should not be dead."

Gurley's 18-year-old sister, Akisha Pringle, arrived at Sharpton's headquarters later and called her brother "an innocent guy walking down the stairs who was killed for no apparent reason at all."

City police often conduct "vertical patrols" inside public housing by going from roofs down staircases that sometimes are havens for crime. Bratton has said the patrols are needed, and the development where Gurley was shot had recently seen a shooting, robberies and assaults.

It was unclear how long the stairway's lights had been out or whether there had been complaints. The New York City Housing Authority did not answer those questions Saturday, saying only that the shooting was tragic and that housing officials would "continue to work with the NYPD and our residents to make our properties as safe as possible."

The fatal shooting came a decade after 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot dead by a startled officer on a Brooklyn rooftop of a housing complex. His family got a $2 million settlement with the city.

Barron organized a protest march of about 200 people on Saturday evening from the shooting scene to the police department office that patrols housing developments.



In a statement, march organizers said there was nothing accidental about Gurley's shooting.

"This is the deadly consequence of the increasing militarization of the police, from New York City to Ferguson - and beyond."


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