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Painful Tears At Memorial Service For Akai Gurley, Man Shot Dead By Police

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Loved ones solemnly carried a casket with the remains of Akai Gurley into a Brooklyn church Friday night, as they paid their respects, expressed their pain and called for action.

Gurley, 28, was fatally shot by a rookie police officer on Nov. 20 in a dark public housing stairwell in what police have called a tragic accident.

As CBS2's Weijia Jiang reported, dozens attended the wake at Brown Memorial Baptist Church, at 484 Washington Ave. in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

"It hurts, it hurts," said Kim Ballinger, Gurley's domestic partner and the father of his child. "Not only did I lose someone, my daughter will have to grow up without a dad now. What am I supposed to tell her?" she asked.

Gurley's funeral service is scheduled for Saturday morning.

The service was preceded by a controversy involving the Rev. Al Sharpton. In a statement, the National Action Network said the Sharpton had decided not to attend due to a "dispute" among Gurley's family members.

The statement suggested that the Gurley's domestic partner and sister wanted the civil rights leader to be involved, while others did not.

Sharpton had planned to attend memorial services Friday night and Saturday along with Gwen Carr – the mother of Eric Garner, who died this past summer after being put in an apparent chokehold by a police officer. A grand jury this week decided not to indict an officer involved in the Garner incident.

But Sharpton said he and Carr will not be attending the services for Gurley "after receiving information about an open dispute amongst (Gurley's) family."

The statement said Sharpton and Carr "hope that the families work out whatever their disputes are between the domestic partner, mother and aunt, and will pursue justice as a united front."

The statement said Sharpton and his organization had spoken with Gurley's domestic partner – who is the mother of his child – as his next of kin, who had wanted him to be involved in their demand for justice. While not indicating specifically that anyone wanted Sharpton to stay out of the issue, the statement did say, "we mean no disrespect for others."

The statement followed a TMZ report quoting Gurley's aunt, Hertenceia Peterson, and saying she was speaking for Gurley's mother.

Quoted by TMZ, Peterson said, "Al Sharpton came in, put his name on the situation, but has not even made one single call to the parents to Akai." TMZ reported that Peterson said Gurley's family did not want Sharpton to deliver a eulogy at Gurley's wake, and that he would be "persona non grata" at Gurley's funeral on Saturday.

The National Action Network statement made a point of noting that Sharpton had rearranged his schedule to appear at the services for Gurley.

"Rev. Sharpton, who is overwhelmed with his work seeking justice in police misconduct cases involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner, was scheduled to speak at the private memorial service of former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry and canceled because of the request of these young ladies," the statement said. "NAN did not mean to interfere with any family dispute and remains available to assist once and if they work their situation out."

Gurley's mother and stepfather demanded justice ahead of the memorial service.

"My son was my life. There is nothing in this world [that] can heal my pain and my heartache and I pray to God that I get justice for my son," Gurley's mother, Sylvia Palmer, said at a news conference. "My son didn't deserve to die like that."

She called her son "a good man" who did nothing wrong.

"I love my son dearly. My son was a good family man. He loved life," she said. "But most importantly, he loved his daughter."

"To me, my son was the best son," said Gurley's stepfather, Kenneth Palmer. "My son was my sunshine and my wife's sunshine."

Family Of Akai Gurley Speaks Out

Also Friday, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said a grand jury will be impaneled in the Gurley case.

Thompson released a statement Friday afternoon, calling the shooting "deeply troubling" and saying it warrants "an immediate, fair and thorough investigation."

He said he will conduct an investigation into the shooting and expects to present the evidence to a grand jury.

"As to those who have called for a Special Prosecutor to handle this case, I respectfully disagree. I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor and that is exactly what I intend to do," Thompson said in a statement.

"I expect to present evidence regarding the November 20, 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley to a grand jury because it is important to get to the bottom of what happened. There is no timetable for the grand jury to be impaneled or for its determination to be reached. I pledge to conduct a full and fair investigation and to give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job. That information is still being gathered," Thompson added.

At the wake Friday evening, a cousin of Gurley's said she was glad that a grand jury would hear the case, but ultimately had little confidence that the officer would be indicted.

"I mean, a lot of cops are getting away with everything," she said. "I want to have faith, but at the same time, it's hard to."

Another mourning, Anjali George, also expressed doubts.

"It just seems as though things are rigged to protect police rather than people and so that seems to be something, at least fundamentally seems to be an issue," George told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell at Gurley's wake.

Retired NYPD Detective Graham Weatherspoon told 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria that he knows DA Thompson, and had faith that he would do the right thing.

"I have more confidence in Ken Thompson than any other DA in the City of New York," Weatherspoon said. "These incidents should not be happening. We're hiring the wrong people."

Akai Gurley Shooting Investigation Continues

In the incident in which Gurley was shot, rookie officer Peter Liang and his partner, also new to the force, were patrolling the stairwell between the seventh and eighth floors at the Pink Houses on Linden Boulevard in East New York, according to police.

Police said the officers walked down the stairs onto an eighth-floor landing when Gurley and his girlfriend opened a stairwell door one floor down after giving up on waiting for an elevator.

Police said Liang, patrolling with his gun drawn, fired apparently by accident, hitting Gurley from a distance of about 10 feet.

Gurley's girlfriend said he was ahead of her when he was shot, sources told CBS2. She said she heard the shot and ran downstairs and at one point, Gurley was behind her also running, sources said.

The girlfriend lost sight of Gurley on the fourth floor and went back upstairs to find him collapsed on the fifth floor, sources said. She then ran to a neighbor, who called 911, sources said.

Within four minutes, an EMT arrived at the scene to find the girlfriend performing CPR on Gurley, sources said.

Because the officers did not initially realize that the shot had hit anyone, there was about a five-minute delay in their radio call of a man shot, sources said.

Police said the first 911 call came in at 11:15 p.m. and the ambulance was dispatched a minute later. At 11:19 p.m., a police lieutenant and supervisor arrived on the scene. But it was at 11:20 p.m. when Liang and his partner radioed for help.

The New York Daily News, citing sources of its own, reported that Liang and his partner couldn't be reached immediately following the shooting and that Liang was texting his union representative instead of calling for help.

Akai Gurley Shooting Investigation Continues

The Police Department has declined to comment on the Daily News report, but sources said it's not unusual for an officer to contact the union after any unusual or traumatic incident, WCBS 880's Irene Cornell reported.

The New York City Medical Examiner's office ruled Gurley's death a homicide, saying he died from a single bullet to the torso. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called Gurley's death "a very unfortunate tragedy" that befell someone "totally innocent."

"The deceased was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairwell," Bratton said last month. He said the decision to draw a firearm is at the discretion of the officer.

Family Of Akai Gurley Speaks Out

Kevin Powell, the spokesman for Sylvia and Kenneth Palmer, said Friday that the officers weren't supposed to be patrolling the stairwell at the time of the incident.

"The two officers were not supposed to be in the portal of the stairway," he said. "In fact, Deputy Inspector Miguel Iglesias, who has been the head officer of the local housing compound, had ordered them not to go into the stairway to patrol."

Liang, 26, has been placed on modified duty. Under standard policy, police internal affairs investigators won't be able to question him until prosecutors have decided whether to file criminal charges.

Family Of Akai Gurley Speaks Out

Powell said Gurley's death, along with the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, an unarmed man shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., "feels like a series of modern-day lynchings."

"We hope that the mayor, and we believe he is, is sincere in his efforts to get justice in this case, particularity in light of the lack of an indictment by a grand jury in the Eric Garner case," Powell said.

Gurley's funeral was set for Saturday morning in Brooklyn. His family is calling for a peaceful and respectful service.

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