A New York police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2014 has been found guilty of manslaughter. The shooting was one of several incidents that sparked mass protests across the US over police tactics.
A jury found police officer Peter Liang guilty of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct after a two-week trial in the Brooklyn court.
Liang, 28, put his head in his hands as the verdict was read out. He faces up to 15 years in prison for the death of Akai Gurley. Sentencing was set for April 14.
"Today's verdict represents justice for Akai Gurley who was totally innocent when he was shot and killed," Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson said.
Liang had been on the job only 11 months when the incident occurred during a routine patrol with his partner on November 20, 2014. Gurley's death came just a few months after the high-profile killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. Like Gurley, Brown and Garner were black, unarmed and killed by officers.
Accident or crime
The court heard how Liang drew his gun upon entering a darkened stairwell in a Brooklyn housing project and fired a single bullet that ricocheted off the wall and hit Gurley on the floor below. The defense said the shooting was an accident and that Liang only fired because a sound startled him. Prosecutors, however, argued he handled his gun recklessly, and did almost nothing to help 28-year-old Gurley.
Liang told the court he thought it was wiser to wait for professional medical aid.
"I was panicking," he said. "I was shocked and in disbelief that someone was hit."
Defense lawyer Robert Brown said he would appeal the court's ruling and warned that the verdict would put officers in danger.
"It says to the NYPD, you have to be very cautious about taking your gun out, to the point of risking your own life," he said.
Gurley's family and friends welcomed the conviction.
"I'm just glad we got a guilty verdict," said Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley's domestic partner and the mother of his daughter.
Liang's trial comes at a time when US police departments are facing scrutiny for a string of shootings in which the suspects were unarmed and, in many cases, black.
The deaths of Garner and Brown in the summer of 2014 sparked mass protests and accusations of police brutality and racism. In both those cases, grand juries declined to indict officers. Liang's guilty verdict is a rare instance of a US police officer being criminally charged for opening fire.
nm/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)