JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The sister of a man killed in a New York stairwell by a police officer said the indictment against the officer came as a surprise -- and relief.
Officer Peter Liang pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in a New York courtroom to charges including manslaughter and official misconduct in the killing of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, who had ties to Jacksonville.
Police say last November, Liang shot and killed Gurley in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing project. NYPD police said it was an accidental shooting.
Gurley's sister, Akisha Pringle, shared her grief -- and relief that Liang was indicted -- with News4Jax.
"He was always such a sweet and humble person," Pringle said of Gurley. "He always looked out for other people no matter what. That's just one thing I loved about him, for real."
Gurley had lots of family in Jacksonville including his mother and stepfather. News4Jax was told Gurley had planned to fly to Jacksonville to surprise his mother for Thanksgiving the week he was killed.
Gurley's sister said the news of the indictment against Liang was a big surprise – in a very good way
"It was just so out of left field. I didn't even know how to believe it," Pringle said.
Even though it came as a surprise, it was the news Pringle and her family had been praying for.
"We're so relieved," Pringle said. "My brother can now actually rest in peace. And just to know that the person who killed him wrongfully is getting what they deserve."
Police said Liang was patrolling a dark stairwell when he fired the shot at Gurley as he walked downstairs. Gurley was unarmed and died at the hospital.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, protesters rallied in support of Gurley's family. This came at a time when tensions against police were on the rise after other grand juries decided not to indict officers who shot unarmed black men.
Gurley's sister said Liang should not have had his gun drawn in the first place and she doesn't see how this could've been an accident.
"He didn't even take the proper precautions to even see if it was a human being," Pringle said. "He pretty much shot him as if he was a dog coming at him. A dog -- like he wasn't even a human being."
Pringle said the months since her brother's death have been very hard. She said not only was he her big brother, but he was her protector. Despite her grief, Pringle hopes for change.
"They need better training. They should know, these rookies should know what's going on," Pringle said. "And these rookies should not be put into certain situations like that in the first place."
A look into Liang's police background shows he had been with the police department for less than two years at the time of the shooting. Pringle said the family plans to follow the trial process every step of the way.