The live-in girlfriend of the Red Hook man shot and killed by a police officer in the stairwell of an East New York public housing tower in November is suing the city and the Housing Authority for $50 million.
The rookie cop who shot Akai Gurley on Nov. 20 acted recklessly, and he, the city, and the Housing Authority owe Gurley’s loved ones for the loss of his life that day, said the lawyer representing Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s girlfriend and mother to his daughter.
“Obviously Mr. Gurley should not have been shot,” said attorney Scott Rynecki. “When you do something recklessly that causes the death of another, you need to answer for that.”
Gurley died on Nov. 20 after Officer Peter Liang shot him once in the chest inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York. Liang and another cop were sweeping the dark stairwell, and Liang shot Gurley once as Gurley entered one flight below, according to cops.
Liang had his gun drawn when Gurley opened the door, and he fired the fatal shot without warning, according to reports. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called Gurley a “total innocent” and the shooting an “unfortunate accident.”
A notice of claim filed in court on Thursday claims recklessness on the part of the police, the failure of the Housing Authority to maintain a properly lit stairwell, and that the cops did not provide enough medical attention to Gurley as he lay dying.
Rynecki criticized the practice of patrolling public housing gun in hand, which the Police Department allows at the discretion of officers.
“There is no justification whatsoever for police walking in a building where there have been no crimes with their weapons unholstered,” he said.
Gurley lived with Ballinger, their 2-year-old daughter Akaila Gurley, and Ballinger’s other daughter in the Red Hook Houses. Since her father’s death Akaila has been asking her mother when they can go to heaven and bring him back, Rynecki said.
Ballinger and her lawyer met last week with District Attorney Ken Thompson, according to Rynecki, and he said he has confidence that Thompson will present a strong argument for indictment when the case goes before a grand jury to consider criminally charging Liang.
If Thompson charges Liang, the civil suit against the city will most likely remain in limbo until the criminal case reaches its conclusion, but Rynecki said accountability, not money, is most important to Gurley’s loved ones.
“At this point we just want justice to be done,” he said.
In tandem with the first year of Thompson’s massive review of cases prosecuted under former district attorneys, Comptroller Scott Stringer has emphasized seeking pre-litigation settlements to save the city the cost of a trial and potentially pricier court-ordered damages payments. Stringer’s office has so far overseen $24 million in payouts for wrongful convictions.
Rynecki said he hasn’t been in touch with Stringer’s office about the possibility of a settlement, but that he would welcome the conversation.
“We’re open to sitting down and talking to everybody,” he said.
A Stringer spokesman said the number crunchers would take a look.
“We review all claims that come before our office on the merits,” Eric Sumberg said.