Peter Liang, the NYPD officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley in a darkened housing project stairwell in 2014, is opting for a jury trial, DNAinfo is reporting. His trial is scheduled to begin January 21.
Liang’s decision is notable because police officers facing criminal charges often choose a bench trial, which is decided by a judge rather than a jury. His attorney told DNAinfo, “We have great confidence in 12 jurors and are unshaken in our belief that this case was a terrible accident that never fit the definition of manslaughter and should never have led to an indictment.”
In December of 2014, Liang shot Gurley while patrolling a staircase in East New York’s Pink Houses with his gun drawn. Gurley was unarmed and ascending the stairs with his girlfriend—NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton called him a “total innocent” in the days following the killing—and Liang’s bullet only struck him after ricocheting off of a wall and down the stairs.
Liang’s attorney claimed to DNAinfo that a New York Daily News report about Liang texting his union rep instead of seeking help for Gurley was untrue. The News article also alleged that NYPD officers were unable to reach Liang and his partner for six minutes after he fired the shot.
In June, months after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced manslaughter charges against Liang, his attorneys put forth an unexpected argument that the charges should be dropped. Because Thompson declined to indict Willie Groomes, a retired New York City correction officer who shot and killed an unarmed man on a subway platform last year, they argued, he should not indict Liang, either. The discrepancy indicated an “undeniable bias” against the NYPD, the document claimed. A judge denied the request.