The case of a Chinese-American New York City police officer charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in a Brooklyn housing project last year will head to trial on Jan. 7.
The date was announced Tuesday at a hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court by Justice Danny Chun, who also denied a media request to photograph and videotape the courtroom proceedings. That decision was based on defendant Peter Liang's opposition to the request.
As Liang was escorted out of the courtroom, some in attendance uttered the words "coward" and "murderer,” prompting court officers to admonish the audience to be quiet. More than a dozen Chinese Americans who came to support Liang sat silently in the courtroom, some next to supporters of Akai Gurley, the man Liang is accused of fatally wounding.
Liang, an NYPD officer for less than two years, pleaded not guilty in February to second-degree manslaughter and other charges in the death of 28-year-old Gurley, who was hit by a bullet said to have ricocheted off the wall of a stairwell he and his girlfriend had entered in November.
The rookie cop and his partner, Shaun Landau, were patrolling that darkened stairwell in the Louis Pink Houses when Liang’s gun, which was drawn, went off, police have said. New York Police Commissioner William Brattonsaid in November that the fatal shot "appears to be an accidental discharge" of Liang's weapon.
Prosecution court documents said that Liang, 27, and his partner argued for two minutes over who should report the shooting to their superiors, and that the officers waited almost 20 minutes before radioing in to report an "accidental fire."
“We want him to serve jail time. He’s taken an innocent life.”
In late May, Gurley's family filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Gurley's daughter and mother, which named Liang, Landau, and the New York City Housing Authority.
Since Liang’s indictment in February, Asian Americans have been thrust into a wider national debate about the role police officers have played in recent incidents involving civilian deaths, many of them black men. Some like New York City Council member Margaret Chin, whose district covers Chinatown, and members of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) have been vocal in supporting charges against Liang.
CAAAV Executive Director Cathy Dang told NBC News it was important to get the entire Chinese-American community to unite in an effort to hold all police officers involved in fatal encounters with civilians accountable.
“The specific role that we play is moving the messaging with the Chinese community to make sure they see that this is a larger systemic issue,” Dang said of her organization, which addresses police and hate violence toward Asian immigrants.
But some in New York’s Chinese-American community argue that Liang has been made a scapegoat to compensate for a lack of indictments in other fatal incidents involving police officers, including the chokehold death of Eric Garner last summer in Staten Island.
"We all want law and order, and this selected enforcement of the law makes a mockery of justice," Doug Lee, who has organized large-scale rallies in support of Liang, told NBC News.
Phil Gim, another Liang supporter who attended yesterday’s hearing, said he believes Liang is being prosecuted because he is Asian American and is part of a “quiet minority.”
“He just happens to be a very convenient person to go after,” Gim said.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, the son of a police officer and the first African American elected to that office in Brooklyn, has said the prosecution of Liang was not political, according to the New York Observer.
Speaking outside the courthouse Tuesday morning, Hertencia Petersen, Gurley's aunt, told NBC News she hopes to see justice for her nephew and wants Liang held accountable. The Gurley’s family attorney, Scott Rynecki, said there will be a rally on Nov. 20 at the Louis Pink Houses, where Gurley was killed, and in front of some police precincts to mark the one-year anniversary of his death.
“We want him to serve jail time,” Petersen said of Liang. “He’s taken an innocent life.”