On Monday morning, the first day of NYPD Officer Peter Liang’s trial, prosecutors played a 911 call made after Liang shot 28-year-old Akai Gurley in November 2014.
“He’s not breathing!” Gurley’s girlfriend yells in the background while Melissa Lopez, a resident at the Pink Houses in East New York, tries to listen to the dispatcher. “The cops shot him,” she added. “The cops shot him.”
During the call, Gurley was lying in the unlit stairwell. Lopez told the courtroom in Brooklyn on Monday that Liang wasn’t anything to help the dying man – neither was his partner. “Nothing. He didn’t do nothing the whole time,” she said. “I didn’t see neither one of them do anything.”
Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Marc Fliedner was a bit harsher in his summation of Liang’s reaction to the shooting, which the officer has always described as an “accident.”
“Instead of doing all he could, Liang didn’t call for help, he stood there whining and moaning,” Fliedner said. “Liang cared only about himself.” According to Gothamist, the prosecutor also said that Liang’s partner – who never drew his weapon and may end up being a witness for the prosecution – “What the fuck was that?”
In 2014, a police source told the New York Daily News that Liang, who alledgedly said in the stairwell, “I’m fired,” was “a crying mess.”
On Tuesday morning, the two police officers who responded to the scene after the shooting testified, as did Lopez’s husband, Miguel Riveria. He said that he heard Liang’s partner ask the officer to call in the shooting repeatedly. Officer Salvatore Tramontana said that he didn’t have his gun out when entering the stairwell, and that he immediately began doing CPR on Gurley, taking over from his girfriend, when he arrived, something that neither Liang or his partner had managed to do.
Officer Andre Fernandez added that Liang looked “absent” while all this commotion was taking place.
Gurley’s family has filed a wrongful death suit, on behalf of the dead man’s young daughter. Her mother, Kimberley Ballinger, told the Daily News last year that “She asks all the time if she can go to daddy’s house in heaven.”
Liang, a rookie who had been working for the NYPD for less than two years, has been charged with the second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, leading to a rare trial of an NYPD officer charged with killing an unarmed civilian. Liang was on a routine patrol when the shooting happened, and was allegedly carrying his gun in one hand, a flashlight in another – the light was out in the stairwell. Rae Koshetz, Liang’s attorney, told the courtroom that her client was in a “state of shock” after the shooting, which happened during an overtime shift. Liang only had his gun drawn, she argued on Monday, because he and his partner were headed up to the roof, “the most dangerous place of a dangerous place.”
Gurley and his girfriend had allegedly tried to take an elevator, but it was taking too long.
She added that the jury should not lump in this case with the many others involving police-related deaths around the country. “The NYPD isn’t on trial here,” she said. “This is not a referendum on policing in this country. Nor is this case about retribution.”
The shooting has been linked to the deaths in Ferguson and elsewhere by activists, and the indictment happened at nearly the same time that grand juries decided not to charge officers involved with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Today in Cleveland, six police officers were fired over a police chase four years ago that led to the deaths of two unarmed civilians. At least 137 shots were fired at the two people.
Some believe that Liang may decide to testify later in the trial.
The prosecution is not arguing that Liang shot Gurley on purpose – but that he was being a bad cop – not holding his gun properly or taking care of the victim after the shooting. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association defended Liang at the time of the shooting, saying that “Dimly lit stairways and dilapidated conditions 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.”
The jury will have to decide if Liang was right to have his gun out in the stairwell.