Lawyers for New York City have approved a $4.5 million settlement with the family of Akai Gurley, who was shot to death by then–NYPD officer Peter Liang in 2014. The settlement, first reported by the Daily News, will include payment of $4.1 million from the city, $400,000 from the New York City Housing Authority, and $25,000 from Liang himself.
The bulk of the settlement funds will be paid out in the name of Gurley’s young daughter Akaila, 4, who will have access to the funds when she turns 18. The portion to be paid by Liang personally, $25,000, will go to Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s partner and Akaila’s mother.
“I’m glad it’s all done. I’m pleased with the outcome,” Ballinger, 26, told the Daily News on Monday.
Gurley’s inexplicable death, in the unlit stairwell of an East New York housing project, intensified what was already a charged national conversation about policing. A young officer with less than a year on the force, Liang killed the unarmed Gurley with a single round while on a “vertical patrol” in the Louis Pink Houses. He would tell investigators that he had fired accidentally as Gurley descended the stairway above him. The two hadn’t so much as exchanged a word prior to the shooting.
The subsequent investigation showed that Liang had his gun drawn despite no threat being present, an accepted practice for NYPD officers on vertical patrol and one that was heavily criticized after Gurley’s death. Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were likewise criticized for delaying calls to emergency services and instead contacting their union representative in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Both were fired after Gurley’s killing.
The wrongful-death suit filed by Ballinger blamed poor training for Liang’s actions and also faulted NYCHA for failing to maintain the stairwell’s lighting.
Liang would become the rare police officer prosecuted for on-duty conduct. His actions were criticized almost immediately by NYPD brass, and he was ultimately convicted in February of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct. But in a decision that angered many in the police reform community, that charge was later reduced to involuntary manslaughter; in the end, Liang escaped jail time, ultimately receiving a sentence of five years’ probation and eight hundred hours of community service.