Days after becoming the first New York police officer found guilty of an on-duty shooting in more than a decade, Officer Peter Liang claims he is not responsible for Akai Gurley’s death. Responding to a $50 million lawsuit filed over a year ago by the mother of Gurley’s child, Kimberly Ballinger, Liang and his former partner have filed court papers that blame the shooting on Gurley.
Liang shot Gurley in the chest while the 28-year-old victim was walking down a dark stairwell. Liang, who maintains his gun “just went off,” fired when he heard a noise. Neither he nor his former partner, Officer Shaun Landau, administered CPR. Melissa Butler, Gurley’s girlfriend at the time, said Liang walked away without offering any medical assistance.
Liang was ultimately convicted of second-degree manslaughter and officer misconduct, while Landau was fired from the NYPD.
But according to documents obtained by the New York Daily News, the two maintain that “the alleged incident and damages, if any, were wholly or in part caused by the culpable conduct.”
The language is standard for a wrongful death defense, but Ballinger still felt it was inappropriate in this case. “I can’t believe the police officers are trying to say that Akai did something to cause this wrongful shooting and his death, when all he did was try to walk down a public staircase,” she told the New York Daily News. In addition to the two officers, her wrongful death lawsuit also faults the city and the New York City Housing Authority.
Liang and Landau are currently represented by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA).
“Since we are required to file an answer to the complaint prior to any discovery being conducted, without access to any investigatory reports, we would be remiss in our duty not to include such a cross claim in our answer, so that’s what we did,” their lawyer told the New York Daily News.
Gurley is far from the first person to be blamed for his own harm by law enforcement. At the time of Gurley’s death, the NYPD was also launching a public relations campaign to argue that Eric Garner, who died from an illegal chokehold by a police officer, was complicit in his own killing. Rank-and-file police officers and police union officials claimed that Garner resisted arrest and should not have been selling the illegal cigarettes that triggered the police encounter. Lawyers for the officer who used the illegal maneuver also said Garner had to be breathing in order to say “I can’t breathe.”
“What we did not hear [from the mayor] is that you can not go out and break the law. […] You can not resist arrest,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said of Garner’s death. “We need to teach our children to respect police officers.”