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Akai Gurley Was Planning Surprise Trip to Mom When He Was Shot by Officer

By  Trevor Kapp and Jeff Mays | December 5, 2014 2:54pm 

 Akai Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer, was comforted by her husband, Kenneth Palmer, as she fought back tears while talking about her son Friday.
Akai Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer, was comforted by her husband, Kenneth Palmer, as she fought back tears while talking about her son Friday.
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DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

CLINTON HILL — The mother of the unarmed man shot dead by a rookie NYPD officer in a Pink Houses stairwell said her son had been planning a surprise Thanksgiving trip to her Florida home when he was killed.

Akai Gurley, 28, was planning his first visit in two years and was going to bring his 2-year-old daughter along to see his mother, Sylvia Palmer, she said inside Brown Memorial Baptist Church, where Gurley’s wake is scheduled for Friday evening.

“Now there will never be another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another Valentine’s, birthday, no social gathering,” Palmer said, tears streaming down her face.

“My son was my heart and now he’s been taken away from me so innocently.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced Friday that he would impanel a grand jury to examine Gurley's shooting death.

"I pledge to conduct a full and fair investigation and to give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job," he said in a statement.

The news comes days after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict white NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of black Staten Island man Eric Garner.

The decision set off protests around the country and protesters have linked the case to the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

A grand jury there also declined to indict a white officer in the black teen's shooting death. The string of non-indictments has led for some, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Rev. Al Sharpton, to call for the exploration of a special prosecutor to handle police misconduct cases.

Thompson said none was necessary in this instance.

"As to those who have called for a Special Prosecutor to handle this case, I respectfully disagree. I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor and that is exactly what I intend to do," he said.

NYPD Officer Peter Liang was doing a vertical patrol inside 2724 Linden Blvd. on Nov. 20 when he encountered Gurley in a dimly-lit stairwell and fatally shot him, police said.

Officers from the unit were told to focus on exterior patrols because of a spate of shootings in the complex, so it was not clear why Liang was performing a vertical patrol, sources said.

“All his hopes and dreams and aspirations were taken away from him so innocently,” Palmer said. “Nothing in this world can bring my son back to me, nothing. I feel like I’m laying in the morgue with him right now. It’s not right.”

City Hall acknowledged it was paying for Gurley's funeral expenses through the Human Resources Administration, a city agency which serves those in need.

Kevin Powell, a political activist who is serving as spokesman for Gurley's mother and stepfather, said he expects the funeral, wake and burial to cost a minimum of $10,000.

Normally HRA only contributes a maximum of $800 to funerals costing no more than $1,400 but an exception was made in this case, said HRA spokesman David Neustadt.

"In certain situations, HRA pays burial costs beyond the cap, as we did after the East Harlem explosion," said Neustadt.

Powell praised the city and said paying for the funeral is an "acknowledgement right from the start that what happened is wrong."

"Like any mother who lost a child she is distraught," Powell said about Palmer. "I don't think any amount of money can help with this loss."

Frank R. Bell Funeral Home in Crown Heights is handling the services and Gurley will be laid to rest in Linden, NJ, Saturday, his family's representatives said.

Gurley’s step-father said he was doing his best to focus on his son’s life and not his death.

“I’m going to think about the memories of my son and not the tragic part of my son,” Kenneth Palmer said. “Let us enjoy the good times that we had and let his soul rest in peace.”

Liang has been placed on modified duty.

Sylvia Palmer said she has just one wish at this point.  

“I pray to God that I get justice for my son,” she said. “Because my son didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Murray Weiss contributed reporting.