from the 'I-feared-for-my-employment' dept
Late last month, rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang shot an unarmed resident of a Brooklyn housing project while entering an unlit stairwell. While opening a door, Liang's gun "discharged" (as they say). The bullet struck Akai Gurley in the chest, killing him.
It was an accident, but an avoidable one. Liang claims to have been opening the door to the stairwell with a flashlight in one hand and his gun in the other. While opening the door (possibly using his "gun hand), he inadvertently fired his weapon. That his gun was drawn was questionable enough. But this error in judgment was further compounded by his actions immediately following the discovery that he had shot someone in the stairwell.
The New York Daily News reports that in the crucial minutes following the shooting, Liang and his partner did not try to get medical attention for the grievously wounded man and could not be reached by either their commanding officer or the 911 dispatcher who fielded a call from a neighbor reporting gunshots.Let that sink in for a moment. An accidental shot hits a man in the chest and the two officers on the scene have zero interest in ensuring the victim receives medical attention. Both officers (both rookies) decided to go off the grid rather than deal with the mess they had created.
Liang knew he had screwed up. But he chose to protect himself as a man he shot lay dying. Instead of responding to queries and calls, he was texting his union representative.
If there's any entity that can keep cops from being held accountable for their actions, it's police unions. Through the power of labor agreements and arbitration hearings, unions can reinstate cops despicable enough that their own departments have disowned them. Liang may only be a rookie but he already recognizes who holds the most power.
His partner may have been following Liang's lead or was equally unsure of where to turn in the wake of this unfortunate incident. He may not have texted a union rep, but he also did nothing to ensure the victim received medical attention. He also chose to remain incommunicado. That decision may have been prompted by the fact that not only had the two officers been forbidden from performing this sort of patrol (called a "vertical") by their supervisor, but they also had no idea where they were.
Mistakes happen. But this collection of errors snowballed into an accidental shooting of an unarmed man. That part is excusable, but only if entirely separated from the events following the shooting. Texting a union rep shows that Liang's primary concern was for his own livelihood rather than the well-being of anyone around him. His partner's compliant silence pushes this situation from merely tragic into the arena of the possibly criminal.
The Daily News cites court insiders as saying "while the shooting may have been a mishap, the cops' subsequent conduct can amount to criminal liability."While I can appreciate the fact that the instinct for self-preservation can often override better judgment, police officers are held -- or should be -- to a higher standard. When someone's life is ebbing away thanks to your screwup, you need to take care of them first and worry about the extent of your ass coverage later. Police officers are already well-insulated against accountability. Talking to a union rep as a man lays dying is, no sickening pun intended, overkill.