NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Thursday, February 11, 2016, 7:27 PM
NYPD cop Peter Liang admitted on the stand he was panicking after mistakenly pulling the trigger.
The rookie NYPD cop who gunned down innocent and unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project was convicted Thursday of the top count of manslaughter.
He faces up to 15 years behind bars when he’s sentenced later this year.
The shocking verdict was a powerful message from the jury that the public’s opinion on police killings has radically changed in the wake of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and other tragedies around the country.
Liang’s shooting of Gurley on Nov. 20, 2014 came four months after the police killing of Garner galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in New York.
Gurley had opted to take the stairs from the seventh floor because the elevator was not working in the Pink Houses yet again.
The father of a 2-year-old girl and his friend, Melissa Butler, walked into an unlit stairwell. The poor lighting was another common, documented complaint from residents in the NYCHA building.
One floor above, Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were just beginning a so-called vertical patrol in which they walked the stairs and checked out the roof – common areas for crime to occur.
Liang, who cried on the stand, testified that his finger was on the side of his drawn pistol as he entered the stairwell.
“I heard something on my left side…It startled me (then) the gun just went off,” Liang testified during the trial.
The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley in the chest.
Akai Gurley, father of a 2-year-old girl, was shot in a stairwell of the Pink Houses in Brooklyn.
Liang said he initially thought he’d accidentally fired his weapon but not struck anyone. He and Landau bickered over who should report the screw-up, and Liang eventually called his sergeant’s cellphone – instead of reporting it over the radio, which is recorded.
Liang realized the magnitude of his mistake when he saw Butler desperately trying to save Gurley’s life.
“I was panicking. I was shocked,” Liang testified.
The two cops said they weren’t confident in their training administering CPR – so they let Butler administer it instead.
“I didn’t know if I could do it better than her,” Liang said.
Liang is the first NYPD cop to be convicted for a police-involved shooting since Officer Bryan Conroy was found guilty of the criminally negligent homicide of Ousmane Zongo.
In that tragedy, Conroy was working undercover when police raided a Chelsea warehouse filled with pirated DVDs and CDs. Zongo was not involved in the bootlegging operation but was in the warehouse working on African artifacts. He spoke little English, became terrified during the raid and made a run for it.
Conroy gave chase, cornered Zongo, 43, in a dark hallway and fired five shots, hitting him four times — including two in the back in 2003.
At Conroy’s second trial in 2005 a judge gave him five years’ probation. Zongo’s family settled a civil suit against the city for $ 3 million.
In 2014 a Daily News investigation found that at least 179 people were killed by on-duty NYPD officers over the past 15 years. Just three of the deaths led to an indictment in state court.