NYPD officer testifies at Peter Liang manslaughter trial
As Akai Gurley lay dying from a gunshot wound in a housing project stairwell one night in 2014, his girlfriend, a 911 caller and a medical technician giving instructions by phone frantically worked to try to save his life.
By contrast, the officer who fired the fatal shot, Peter Liang, and his partner had other concerns, according to the partner. Liang first fretted he’d be fired for shooting his gun by accident before the two rookie officers wasted the next four minutes bickering like school children about which one should follow rules requiring them to report the discharge to a supervisor, the partner told a Brooklyn jury on Tuesday.
“I told him to call and he told me to call,” Officer Shawn Landau testified at Liang’s manslaughter trial.
Lawyers for Liang say the fatal shooting was an accident not a crime, arguing that the officer didn’t know at first that the bullet had ricocheted off a wall before striking the 28-year-old Gurley a flight below him.
But prosecutors say Liang handled his weapon recklessly and they sought to use the testimony of his partner to show that the defendant, even after realizing he’d shot an innocent unarmed man, did almost nothing to help him.
The Liang trial is being closely watched by advocates for police accountability, who see it as a counterpoint to decisions by grand juries declining to indict white police officers in other killings of unarmed black men, including those of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.
On Tuesday, the trial also offered a rare instance of an NYPD officer taking the witness stand against his former partner.
Landau, 28, testified against his former Police Academy classmate under an immunity agreement shielding him from criminal charges. He still faces NYPD administrative charges that could get him fired.
The witness described how a routine foot patrol of a public housing project turned tragic when the 28-year-old Liang, a flashlight in one hand and his pistol in another, used his shoulder to push open a door leading to the stairwell where the lights were burned out. At that point, Landau said he heard the gunshot blast.
“I was in shock because the gun just fired out of nowhere,” he said.
A frantic Liang’s first reaction was, “I’m fired,” Landau said. “I said, ‘No you’re not. It’s just an accidental discharge.'”
When the officers finally composed themselves and went into the stairwell, they came across the weeping girlfriend kneeling over the collapsed Gurley, whose “eyes were open but not blinking,” Landau said. He testified he heard Liang say, “Oh my God, someone’s shot,” and Landau urged Liang to get on his police radio to finally report the shooting.
Landau testified that neither officer stopped to use their cardio-pulmonary resuscitation training as they walked around Gurley, his girlfriend and the 911 caller and into a hallway to wait for other officers to arrive. He then watched as a supervisor took Liang’s gun away from him.
With that, he said, the shooter “fell to the floor and started crying.”