Rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang, who is charged with manslaughter and official misconduct in the November 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley, testified in his own defense on Monday. “His eyes were rolled back,” Liang said of the mortally wounded Gurley. “He was just laying there very still.”
On November 20, 2014, Liang and his partner Peter Landau—who testified against Liang last week (in exchange for immunity)—were on vertical patrol in the darkened stairwells of East New York’s Louis H. Pink Houses. Gurley was fatally struck by a ricocheting bullet that Liang accidentally fired.
Officer Liang said that before entering the stairwell, he had seen bullet holes on the roof. “I feel the need to take my gun out,” he said.
Struggling to keep his composure, he described the moment he fired his weapon — the result of a combination of dread and confusion.
“I heard something on my left side; it was a quick sound and it just startled me, and the gun just went off after I tensed up,” he said.
Officer Liang was relatively new to the force. The dangers of the kind of patrol he was on were underscored last week when two officers, Diara E. Cruz and Patrick Espeut, were shot in a housing project in the Bronx.
As a lawyer for the defense asked Officer Liang to recall the shooting, he became overwhelmed with emotion.
“I said, ‘Oh my god, someone is hit!’” he said, as his mother watched in the packed courtroom. “I went over the radio, ‘Pink Post One, male shot, call a bus.’”
Transcripts from the radio calls Liang made that night, however, do not include a call for an ambulance. What is more, multiple witnesses have testified that neither Liang nor Landau performed CPR on Gurley, as is required by NYPD rules. “Peter was in shock,” Landau told the jury last week. “He couldn’t believe he just shot someone.”
“He was standing up and he was staring into space, staring upward at the fifth floor,” Lt. Vitaliy Zelikov testified. “He was shaken up, he was pale, he became unsteady on his feet.”
On Monday, Liang offered a similar account. “I got to the hallway of that floor,” he said. “Everything just sunk in, I was thinking about everything that happened. I just couldn’t believe someone was hit. I just broke down.”
Liang also testified, however, that he did not receive proper CPR training at the police academy—instructors fed cadets the right answers, he said. Landau said the same thing under cross-examination last week.
Both the prosecution and the defense rested Monday. Closing statements are scheduled for Tuesday.