NYPD Rookie officers Peter Liang and Shaun Landau were conducting a vertical patrol on Nov. 20, 2014, inside the Louis H. Pink Houses owned by New York Housing authority. At one point, while inside a pitch dark stairwell Liang’s gun accidentally discharged after Liang was startled by a loud noise. Akai Gurley, who was floors below them, was hit by the ricocheted bullet and died.
The death of Mr. Gurley was a tragic accident, very similar to that of Timothy Stansbury Jr. who was shot and killed January 24, 2004 by NYPD officer Richard S. Neri Jr. when conducting rooftop patrol. Officer Neri, then twelve-year veteran officer continued his employment with NYPD and was not indicted after the accident. However, in 2016, inexperienced officer Liang, was indicted and convicted of five counts of charges including second-degree manslaughter. The contrast is shocking.
In that very tragic night of Nov 20, 2014, many things went wrong.
The notorious Pink house owned by New York Housing Authority had no lighting in the stairwell. According to topix, a resident forum, many accidents and crimes happened in those dark stairwells. NYPD’s officer Lynch told the press that the poor conditions of the public housing create fertile ground for violent crime while the constant presence of illegal firearms creates a dangerous and highly volatile environment for police officers and residents alike. According to officer Lynch, the Pink houses are among the most dangerous projects in the (New York) City and their stairwells are the most dangerous places in the projects. How many more people have to die before New York Housing Authority would change the light bulb?
The brass of NYPD sent two young officers to a dangerous area for vertical patrol. Apparently those officers were inexperienced. Neither Liang nor Landau had received adequate training before being assigned to such dangerous task. I am not trying to tell NYPD how to assign tasks to their officers but common sense says an inexperienced officer should partner with someone seasoned. Only one week before Liang’s verdict, two young NYPD officers were shot in another New York Housing Authority project during vertical patrol. It is hard to comprehend why young officers were sent to such area without being appropriately prepared for the job.
In the years 1999-2014, at least 179 people were killed by NYPD on duty officers. Liang is one of four cases prosecuted. I am particularly disturbed by the prosecuting attorney’s closing argument to the jury, which implied officer Liang’s shooting was deliberate and that Police Officer Liang pointed his gun at the victim- while none of the evidence provided in the trial supported such an argument.
The system has failed both Mr. Gurley and Mr. Liang. It is truly tragic Mr. Gurley’s life was lost. For officer Liang, there may still be a chance for a fair treatment by the judicial system.