Not only won’t ex-officer Peter Liang spend a single day behind bars for the shooting death of unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project, but his charges have been reduced.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun sentenced the former cop from Bensonhurst to five years probation and 800 hours of community service today, and reduced his verdict from manslaughter and official misconduct to criminally negligent homicide.
“I looked at the video of Peter Liang entering the Pink Houses that night and he entered with a good frame of mind. Shooting and killing someone was the last thing on his mind. Incarceration is not necessary,” said Judge Chun.
As we’ve reported:
Officer Peter Liang, who is from Bensonhurst, had reportedly been on the force just 18 months when he fired his revolver into a dark stairwell of an East New York apartment building on November 20 during a routine patrol, and his bullet ricocheted, killing the 28-year-old father of two. Prosecutors say that Officer Liang retreated from the scene and did not immediately report the shooting. Then, later, they say he stood over Gurley’s body without performing CPR.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said in March that it would not seek prison time for Liang, but District Attorney Kenneth Thompson criticized Chun’s decision to reduce the jury’s verdict.
“My office vigorously prosecuted Peter Liang for manslaughter because the evidence established that his conduct was criminal and the rule of law demanded that he be held accountable for his actions in taking Akai Gurley’s life,” said Thompson. “While our sentencing recommendation was fair under the unique circumstances of this case, we respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision to reduce the jury’s verdict and will fight to reverse it on appeal.”
The case prompted thousands to protest Liang’s conviction, which took place amid a national conversation about policing in black communities following several high profile police-related killings. Many in Brooklyn’s Asian American community felt that Liang’s conviction was a case of “selective justice,” and noted that at the outset of the trial, the police union was noticeably absent.
Seemingly addressing these concerns, Thompson recommended no jail time, saying “from the beginning, this tragic case has always been about justice and not about revenge.”
The Gurley family responded harshly to the verdict.
“Akai’s life doesn’t matter. There’s not justice. Black lives don’t matter. Justice will be served one way or another,” said Gurley’s aunt Hertencia Petersen.
Additional reporting by Justin Fox.