An NYPD officer's decision to draw his handgun and not immediately tell supervisors he had fired the gun moved jurors to find him guilty in the death of an unarmed man, one of the jurors told BuzzFeed News Saturday.
Peter Liang was convicted Thursday of manslaughter and official misconduct in the 2014 death Akai Gurley, who was unarmed and walking down the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing development when he was shot.
"Primarily what was important to us was the fact that his finger was on the trigger," a juror, who asked not to be identified, told BuzzFeed News.
The fact Liang did not immediately report the misfire, which killed Gurley, was also particularly troubling for the jurors.
"As soon as his gun went off, he was responsible to immediately report that to a supervisor," the juror told BuzzFed News in an interview. "Innocent people could have been hurt, scared. For three-and-a-half minutes no supervisor was contacted."
Liang was conducting a vertical patrol — during which officers walk down the stairs of a housing development and check each floor — when he heard a "quick sound," tensed, and fired his gun down the stairwell.
Liang, who testified in his own defense, said his gun accidentally went off. The bullet ricocheted on the wall and struck Gurley in the chest.
Defense attorneys argued it is not against department policy for officers to unholster their weapons, and that they can use discretion. But jurors believed Liang, as a uniformed officer, should be held to a higher standard because of his training.
"It was his responsibility, as a police officer charged with protecting innocent people and using a deadly weapon, that he was able to do more," the juror said. "[He] should have done more to prevent an accident from happening."
Other jurors have also said Liang's decision to put his finger on the trigger during the patrol was a key part in the verdict.
"From the experts, through their testimony, a shot cannot be discharged unless your finger is on the trigger," Carlton Screen, another juror, told the Daily News.
Nevertheless, the juror told BuzzFeed News the decision to render a guilty verdict against a uniformed officer weighed heavily with the jury of seven men and five women.
"The gravity of rendering that verdict on a police officer, someone who dedicated himself to upholding the law, it's troubling," the juror said. "None of us took it lightly."
On multiple occasions, jurors asked to review the definition and requirements of a manslaughter charge to make sure it was the correct decision.
"None of us were happy to have to render this verdict," the juror said. "Just the act of having to render that kind of verdict was so significant that it took some time to emotionally come to terms with it."
Liang's decision to testify helped humanize him in the eyes of jurors, but did not change the decision.
"The way he handled the gun was ultimately the most important thing to us," the juror said.
Liang was officially dismissed from the NYPD shortly after the verdict. His former partner was also fired Friday by the department.
Liang, who faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years, is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
The conviction comes down amid an ongoing national debate about police accountability and use of excessive force. Though the national discussion did not influence the decision, the juror said the idea that officers should be held to a higher standard did.
"I was surprised to learn how rarely verdicts like this are rendered," the juror said. "I think in situations like this, where a police officer is at fault for a wrongful death, and there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they need to be brought to justice."
Liang's attorneys have said they plan to file a motion to set aside the guilty verdict, and if that isn't successful, they will file an appeal. The attorneys said they may also look to reduce the sentence to probation.
The juror told BuzzFeed News they were surprised to learn the manslaughter sentence could be as long as 15 years, but whether or not he received a shorter sentence was up to the courts.
Ultimately, the juror believes the jury made the right decision.
"They're armed with deadly weapons, they have special training and special authority under the law, and they are trained in life-saving techniques," the juror said. "They need to be able to carry out all that training and use all those privileges in a the way that is provided to them and in good faith. And when they are not doing that, they need to be held accountable."
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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