In a Brooklyn courtroom packed with the relatives of his victim, Peter Liang, the former
New York City police officer who fatally shot Akai Gurley while on patrol in a housing
project stairwell, was sentenced on Tuesday to five years of probation, escaping a prison
term in the divisive police misconduct case.
The sentencing in State Supreme Court put to rest a politically contentious case that
highlighted concerns over police accountability. It began in November 2014 when Mr.
Gurley was hit by a ricocheting bullet in a dark stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses in
the East New York neighborhood, joining a list of other unarmed black men who had been
killed by the police around the country.
Though Mr. Liang, a rookie officer, had faced up to 15 years in prison for his conviction in
February on manslaughter and official misconduct charges, Justice Danny K. Chun reduced
the charge to criminally negligent homicide moments before the sentencing. The decision
not to imprison Mr. Liang followed the recommendation of Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn
district attorney. Mr. Thompson announced in March that he would not ask for prison
time in part because no evidence existed that Mr. Liang had meant to kill or injure Mr.
Gurley. Mr. Liang was also sentenced to 800 hours of community service.
Leaving courtroom Mr. Gurley’s aunt Herntencia Peteresen called out in the hallway:
“There is no justice! Akai Gurley’s life didn’t matter!”
At the three-week trial this winter, the jury heard how Mr. Liang and his partner, Officer
Shaun Landau, were on patrol in the Pink Houses on Nov. 20, 2014, when, at one point,
Mr. Liang opened a door into an unlighted stairwell and his gun went off. The bullet
glanced off a wall and struck Mr. Gurley, 28, who was walking down the stairs with his
girlfriend, in his heart.
Though the case was quickly caught up in the furor over the death of Eric Garner, who had
died just months earlier while being arrested on Staten Island, the Gurley shooting never
neatly fit the narrative of other high-profile police killings.
Mr. Thompson recognized that difference in a sentencing memo issued last month, which
referred to Mr. Gurley as “a completely innocent man who lost his life for no reason” but
also said Mr. Liang had no prior criminal history and posed no threat to public safety and
should therefore not face time in prison.
|Ex-New York Officer Gets 5 Years
of Probation in Fatal Brooklyn
Akai Gurley Peter Liang