Family of NYC man killed by police seeks answers

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NYC Mayor, Police Commissioner Meet With Shooting Victim's Family

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Rev. Al Sharpton and public officials joined stunned relatives of an unarmed man killed by a rookie police officer in a public housing stairwell to press for a full investigation and changes to police training and procedures.

Police have described a rookie officer's shooting of Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn staircase as an apparent accident. But "how do we know until there is a thorough investigation of all that happened?" Sharpton asked at a rally Saturday at his Harlem headquarters, standing alongside Gurley's 2-year-old daughter, her mother, and several elected officials.

"We're not demonizing the police. We don't know what happened," Sharpton said, but "this young man should not be dead."

Gurley's death at the Louis Pink Houses in the gritty East New York neighborhood comes at a sensitive time, with a grand jury weighing whether or not to bring criminal charges against another officer in the chokehold death of a man on Staten Island, and the nation bracing for a potential announcement soon on whether an indictment will be handed up in the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

"From Staten Island, to Ferguson, now back to Brooklyn to the Pink Houses, it is time for us to stop ducking the issue and dealing with the issue of police conduct, police training, and the rights of citizens," Sharpton said.

City police often conduct "vertical patrols" inside public housing by going from roofs down staircases that sometimes are havens for crime. Police Commissioner William Bratton has said the patrols are needed, and the development where Gurley was shot had recently seen a shooting, robberies and assaults.

Officer Peter Liang and his partner, also new to the force, were patrolling a pitch-dark stairwell with flashlights late Thursday night when the shooting happened, police said. Gurley, 28, was leaving his girlfriend's apartment after she had braided his hair, according to the girlfriend, who is not his daughter's mother.

The officers had descended onto an eighth-floor landing when, 14 steps away, Gurley and the girlfriend had opened a door into the seventh-floor landing, having given up on waiting for an elevator.

Liang, patrolling with his gun drawn, was about 10 feet from Gurley when, without a word and apparently by accident, he fired a shot, police said.

It was unclear how long the lights had been out or whether there had been complaints. The New York City Housing Authority did not answer those questions Saturday, saying only that the shooting was tragic and that it would "continue to work with the NYPD and our residents to make our properties as safe as possible."

Police Commissioner William Bratton called Gurley's death a tragedy that befell someone "totally innocent." Mayor Bill de Blasio met with some of Gurley's relatives Friday evening.

Gurley's death came a decade after 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was shot dead by a startled officer on a Brooklyn rooftop of a housing complex. His family got a $2 million settlement with the city.

"The issue of police going up and down dark stairwells with their guns drawn and their safety off is at the center of this Gurley case," Sharpton said. "That is the policy accident that, since Stansbury, we have said, to this city, you need to deal with."

The NYPD assigns rookie officers as reinforcements in crime hotspots. The department has been working to give rookies more training and time with more senior officers.

Gurley's relatives didn't speak at the rally. His stepfather, Kenneth Palmer, has called Gurley "a peacemaker."

Liang, 26, has been placed on modified duty. Under standard policy, police internal affairs investigators won't be able to question him until prosecutors have decided whether to file criminal charges. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has called the shooting "deeply troubling" and said it warrants "an immediate, fair and thorough investigation."

The shooting also revived longstanding complaints about maintenance problems in public housing, including poor lighting.

"Why didn't an electrician do a vertical patrol?" City Councilman Jumaane Williams asked at Saturday's rally.

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