DA Thompson recommends no jail time for Peter Liang

March 24, 2016 Anna Spivak
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The Brooklyn district attorney is recommending no jail time for former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was convicted last month of manslaughter for fatally shooting Akai Gurley in the chest inside the stairwell of one of East New York’s Louis Pink Houses.

On Wednesday, March 23, District Attorney Ken Thompson issued his recommendation, contending, “Peter Liang was indicted, prosecuted and subsequently convicted by a jury because his reckless actions caused an innocent man to lose his life. There is no evidence, however, that he intended to kill or injure Akai Gurley.

“Because his incarceration is not necessary to protect the public, and due to the unique circumstances of this case, a prison sentence is not warranted,” Thompson said in the statement, noting that Liang has no prior criminal history and poses no future threat to public safety. “Justice will be best served if Mr. Liang is sentenced to five years of probation, with the condition that he serves six months of home confinement with electric monitoring and performs 500 hours of community service.”

Thompson provided his sentencing recommendation to Justice Danny Chun, the judge presiding over Liang’s case.

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Evidence at trial established that Gurley was both innocent and unarmed at the time of the shooting and that Liang was not under any threat that should have caused him to discharge his weapon. Evidence also showed that after the shooting, Liang failed to report the incident immediately, contrary to the NYPD Patrol Guide.

After Liang’s second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct convictions were released, thousands of protestors rallied at Cadman Plaza in February to show their support for the 28-year-old Liang, a Bensonhurst resident, maintaining that the incident was an accident, not a crime. However, many other New Yorkers hailed the conviction as justice, especially in the wake of the grand jury’s failure to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Reactions to Thompson’s recommendation were mixed.

“While the press release issued by the Kings County District Attorney at least does not compound the injustice done to Peter Liang by recommending jail time, nonetheless it fails to correct the injustice created by the conviction of Peter Liang for manslaughter,” said Assemblymember William Colton of Thompson’s sentencing recommendation. “Never before has a defendant been convicted of manslaughter based upon such a lack of law or facts to justify such a conviction. The unjust conviction came about under a unique fact pattern which brought together both Peter Liang, a rookie New York City police officer, teamed with another rookie New York City police officer, and Akai Gurley, a totally innocent person using the stairways because of the lack of dependability of the building elevators.

“Since the conviction,” he continued, “we have seen both the New York Housing Authority and the New York City Police Department scampering to correct their own internal policy failures, which bear the true cause of this tragedy.”

Councilmember Jumaane Williams had a different opinion. He responded by saying that Thompson’s recommendation could “have a chilling effect on accountability” and called it “deeply concerning.

“I truly believe, as do many, that Peter Liang did not intend to kill Akai Gurley that night. I also believe on many levels that the NYPD has questions to answer,” Williams said. “Still none of that negates the fact that an unarmed young man was killed and Officer Liang’s actions – and inaction – were reckless and he must be held accountable. This was confirmed by a jury and he should receive an appropriate sentence.”

According to reports, Chun is set to announce his ruling sometime around April 14. Liang could  face up to 15 years behind bars.

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