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Officer Indicted For Fatally Shooting Unarmed Akai Gurley, Sources Say

By  Trevor Kapp and Murray Weiss | February 10, 2015 3:27pm 

 Akai Gurley, 28, was unarmed when police fatally shot him Thursday night. The officer who pulled the trigger was indicted Tuesday, according to NY1.
Akai Gurley, 28, was unarmed when police fatally shot him Thursday night. The officer who pulled the trigger was indicted Tuesday, according to NY1.
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DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp and Explore Talent

BROOKLYN — The rookie NYPD officer who fatally shot an unarmed man inside a Pink Houses stairwell in November has been indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury.

Officer Peter Liang has been charged with manslaughter in the second degree for his role in the Nov. 20 shooting death of Akai Gurley, 28, who was visiting his girlfriend inside 2724 Linden Boulevard when he was killed in a pitch-black stairwell, according to sources.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Liang's gun was "accidentally discharged" and called Gurley a "total innocent."

It wasn't immediately clear what charges Liang faces. He is expected to turn himself in Wednesday at 2 p.m., sources said.

Liang was conducting a vertical patrol with his gun drawn when he fired a single shot from a landing above the seventh floor, striking Gurley in the chest, the NYPD said.

"This officer deserves the same due process afforded to anyone involved in the accidental death of another," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said. "The fact the he was assigned to patrol one most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident."

Liang's lawyer decided not to allow him to testify before the grand jury, and sources speculated that decision was based on his inexperience and it would be wise to tell his story one time if he was indicted.

Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, 27, told DNAinfo New York immediately after the shooting that the officers never identified themselves.

“They didn’t present themselves or nothing and shot him,” she said. “They didn’t identify themselves at all. They just shot.”

Liang declined to comment when reached on his cellphone.

"This is a first step in getting justice for the reckless shooting and wrongful death of Akai Gurley," said Scott Rynecki, an attorney for Kimberly Ballinger, the domestic partner of the slain man. 

Officers from Liang’s unit had been told to focus on exterior patrols following a spate of shootings in the housing complex, so it was unclear why Liang was performing a vertical patrol.

Weeks later, Gurley’s mother, Sylvia Palmer, said her son had been planning a surprise trip to visit her in Florida for Thanksgiving before he was killed.

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

Liang is the second NYPD officer to be indicted in a week.

Officer Joel Edouard, 37, surrendered on Feb. 3 after he was caught on video stomping a marijuana suspect’s head. He was indicted on charges of assault and official misconduct.

"I'm happy to see this indictment happen," said Kevin Powell, the spokesman for Gurley's family. "It won’t be full justice unless he's actually convicted of the killing of Akai Gurley. We've seen this before where officers are indicted but there’s no conviction."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was blasted by police unions for statements he made in the wake of a Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death, released a more subdued message Tuesday.

"It has been reported that a Brooklyn grand jury has acted in this case," the mayor said. "No matter the specific charges, this case is an unspeakable tragedy for the Gurley family. We urge everyone to respect the judicial process as it unfolds."

The indictment was first reported by NY1.