China-US / People

Victim's girlfriend testifies in NYC cop trial

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-02-03 10:15

The night of Nov 20, 2014, is still fresh in Melissa Butler's mind.

Her boyfriend, Akai Gurley, came over to the 7th-floor apartment she shared with her family to watch television and she was busy braiding his hair, a chore she did every three weeks.

"Around 11 he decided to leave, but the elevator wouldn't work when we left, so we decided to take the stairs," Butler said. "The door [to the stairwell] opened and slammed against the wall, and then a shot went off.

"We ran down the stairs to the 5th floor where [Akai] collapsed," she said while choking back tears. "He was conscious, but couldn't talk. His eyes were bloodshot red. I told him, ‘Stay with me, I'm getting help.'"

Butler said initially she did not know that Gurley was hurt, but then she saw "a bullet wound" and realized that Gurley's "chest was bleeding with a puddle forming behind him".

The fifth day of testimony in the manslaughter trial of Chinese-American NYPD officer Peter Liang in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Akai Gurley, 28, featured testimony from the victim's girlfriend as well as details on police training and the use of firearms.

Video from the scene of the crime and the 911 call placed at the time of the shooting were also played for the jury. Several people in the audience began to cry as the 911 call was played, including Butler.

Butler testified that she met Gurley at a store in East New York in January 2011. The two began dating shortly thereafter.

She told the jury on Tuesday that she tried both chest compressions and breathing into Gurley's mouth as she received instruction from a neighbor [Ms Lopez] who was on the phone with an EMS unit.

"I kneeled on the floor in a puddle of his blood and urine," Butler said. "Ms Lopez brought me a towel. I followed the instructions she gave me."

Liang, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree manslaughter in February 2015, did not look at the witness stand during Butler's testimony. He sat flanked by his attorneys on Tuesday at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

More than 100 people were sitting in on the trial.

Liang had been on the force 18 months before the incident.

Detective Joseph Agosto, an NYPD firearms expert, testified that basic training at the Police Academy requires an officer to familiarize themselves with their service weapon.

Beyond practice at the gun range, a series of tactical training missions are used to prepare officers for what they might see in the line of duty, Agosto said. That training includes a "stress inoculation" program complete with simulations of real-life scenarios, he added.

But, as in all cases, an officer must still identify "probable cause" for the use of their firearm, he said.

The defense has suggested that Liang's gun was defective, CBS News reported.

Liang's trial began Jan 25 with opening statements from both sides.

Prosecutor Marc J. Fliedner said that Liang acted recklessly in discharging his firearm in a darkened stairwell, and in failing to help Gurley.

After the shooting, neither Liang nor his partner Shaun Landau did anything to help Gurley, not even administering CPR or any other emergency aid, Fliedner told the jury.

Rae Koshetz, a defense attorney for Liang, said in her opening argument that her client committed no crime, adding that the gun went off accidentally.

Detective Leonardo Pino, a 30-year member of the NYPD, testified that training in CPR, including the proper techniques for chest compressions and airway breathing assistance, and basic first aid instruction is given to all officers.

Officers are told early on in their training that they are required to assist anyone injured during a police investigation, Pino said.

"As a police officer, we have to render reasonable aid," Pino told the court.

On cross-examination, Rae Koshetz, a defense attorney for Liang, asked Pino if the term "reasonable aid" is ever defined in the policeman's patrol guide issued to new recruits.

"No," Pino replied.

Both sides agree that while Liang was on patrol on Nov 20, 2014, at Pink Houses in East New York, he discharged his gun and a bullet, said to have ricocheted off the wall of the stairwell, killed Gurley.

Court documents presented by the prosecution said that Liang and Landau argued for two minutes over who would report the shooting and waited nearly 20 minutes before calling in an "accidental fire".

The trial will resume on Feb 4. Liang faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

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