Akai Gurley shooting: New York police officer Peter Liang to be charged over shooting death of unarmed black man in stairwell, says lawyer

Rookie officer was on patrol in Brooklyn when the alleged incident happened last year

A rookie police officer who allegedly accidentally shot and killed an unarmed black man in a New York stairwell has been charged over the killing.

Officer Peter Liang will appear in court on Wednesday over the shooting death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, according to Scott Rynecki, a lawyer representing Mr Gurley's family. The charges against Mr Liang were not immediately clear.

Mr Liang and his partner were patrolling the Louis Pink Houses, a public housing development in Brooklyn’s gritty East New York neighbourhood, on November 20 last year. The housing estate, where a friend of Mr Gurley’s lived, had been the scene of a series of robberies and assaults.

The Associated Press said the officers entered the project and were on the eighth floor. The lights of the stairwell were burned out and the area was completely dark, prompting the officers to use their torches. Mr Liang also drew his weapon.

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Akai Gurley was shot last year in Brooklyn

Reports said that Mr Gurley had been on the seventh floor with  a woman who had been braiding his hair. Hey had been waiting for a lift but then decided against it.

It is said Mr Liang was no more than 10ft from from Mr Gurley when he fired without warning – apparently by accident. Mr Gurley struck in the chest and taken to a nearby hospital where he died.

Patrick Lynch, head of Mr Liang’s police union, said the officer deserves due process. “The fact that he was assigned to patrol one of the most dangerous housing projects in New York City must be considered among the circumstances of this tragic accident,” he said.

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Demonstrators gathered at Akai Gurley's funeral service

The charge comes amid national protests following a series of incidents where police officers have not been charged over the deaths of black suspects.

In New York, in particular, there were demonstrations over the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a choke-hold by officers. Nobody was charged over the death of the 46-year-old.

There were also angry protests following the shooting dead of teenager Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Prosecutors subsequently announced the officer who killed Mr Brown would not be charged.

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