By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed black man in an unlit Brooklyn stairwell is expected to take the stand in his own defense on Monday at his trial for manslaughter.
Peter Liang was conducting a routine patrol inside a public housing project on the night of Nov. 20, 2014, when he fired his gun once. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck the chest of Akai Gurley, 28, who was walking one floor below with his girlfriend.
Prosecutors have said Liang, at the time a 27-year-old rookie police officer, spent minutes arguing with his patrol partner, officer Shaun Landau, about whether to report the shot to police headquarters while Gurley lay dying downstairs. Once Liang and Landau realized someone had been hit by the bullet, they failed to provide medical assistance despite their training, prosecutors claim.
The shooting helped to inflame tensions in New York and across the United States over the use of force against minorities by police officers, though Liang, who is Chinese-American, has not been accused of deliberately firing at Gurley.
Prosecutors have said Liang acted recklessly in unholstering his gun in the first place and then firing unnecessarily. Liang's defense lawyers have said Liang was justified in having his gun out as he patrolled a crime-ridden building without adequate lighting.
That defense was underscored on Thursday night, when two police officers were shot during a similar "vertical patrol" inside the stairwell of a public housing complex in the Bronx.
Jurors will weigh Liang's own account with versions of the story offered by Melissa Butler, Gurley's girlfriend who described frantically trying to administer aid while Liang stood by, and Liang's partner Landau, who testified last week under an immunity deal with prosecutors.
Liang's lawyers have said he was in shock following the shooting and unable to render medical assistance to Gurley.
Liang could be the final witness at the trial, which began two weeks ago in Brooklyn state Supreme Court.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Clelia Oziel)