|Updated March 23, 2016 7:24 PM|
By Alison Fox
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson recommended Wednesday that convicted former Officer Peter Liang be sentenced to probation and not serve any jail time.
Liang, 28, was convicted of manslaughter in February for the 2014 stairwell shooting death of Akai Gurley, also 28. Trial evidence showed that a single bullet from Liang’s service weapon ricocheted and struck Gurley, who was walking in an unlit stairway at the Louis H. Pink public housing project.
“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,” Thompson said in a statement. “When Mr. Liang went into that building that night, he did so as part of his job and to keep the people of Brooklyn and our city safe.”
Instead of jail time, Thompson recommended five years of probation, including six months of house arrest with electronic monitoring, and 500 hours of community service.
“Mr. Liang has no prior criminal history and poses no future threat to public safety,” Thompson added. “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.”
Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen, mother Sylvia Palmer and stepfather Kenneth Palmer said in a joint statement they were outraged and called the recommendation inadequate.
“Officer Liang was convicted of manslaughter and should serve time in prison for his crime. This sentencing recommendation sends the message that police officers who kill people should not face serious consequences,” they wrote. “It is this on-going pattern of a severe lack of accountability for officers that unjustly kill and brutalize New Yorkers that allows the violence to continue.”
Liang is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14. His sentence is ultimately up to Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who presided over the trial.
Scott Rynecki, an attorney for Gurley’s family, said someone from the family plans on making a victim’s impact statement at the sentencing hearing.
“This district attorney was able to achieve what others have not, and that was an indictment and conviction of a police officer for the wrongful shooting and death of an innocent man,” Rynecki said. “It is important in our community to hold police accountable when they do something wrong. We have full faith in our system of justice.”
Rynecki, who has filed a wrongful death case for the family, urged the NYPD and the city to “take this opportunity to do a full audit of the police academy and the training, not just the CPR.”
The NYPD declined to comment on Thompson’s recommendation.
“As I have said before, there are no winners here,” Thomson said. “But the sentence that I have requested is just and fair under the circumstances of this case. From the beginning, this tragic case has always been about justice and not about revenge.”
One of Liang’s attorney, Rae Downes Koshetz, said they are hoping for the best at his sentencing hearing.
“We’re delighted to hear this,” she said. “We continue to believe that Peter is innocent and thank the district attorney for taking this stance.”
The advocacy group Justice Committee, which monitors incidents involving police, said the judge in the case should sentence Liang to some time in prison.
“Liang entered a stairwell in the Pink Houses with his gun drawn — against NYPD protocol. He shot unarmed Akai Gurley, who was doing nothing wrong. Then he attempted to cover up his wrongdoing rather than assist Gurley, who lay dying on the floor. These are criminal actions, for which Liang should be held accountable,” the group said in an emailed statement.
A day after his conviction, Liang’s partner, Shaun Landau, also 28, was fired from the department. Both Liang and Landau were probationary officers who could be fired by the commissioner for any reason for up to 24 months after joining the NYPD.
Earlier this month, an NYPD academy instructor who taught CPR during the time Liang was enrolled was stripped of her gun and badge. During the trial, Landau testified he only spent a couple of minutes practicing CPR on a mannequin while in the police academy, and his memory of the training was hazy.