Peter Liang sentencing. Did a courtroom make the right ruling? Debate ensues as protesters and supporters argue whether justice was adequately served?
Peter Liang a former NYPD rookie cop was on Tuesday afternoon sentenced to 800 hours of community service after ‘accidentally’ shooting dead Akai Gurley at notorious East New York housing project the Pink Houses‘ while navigating an unlit stairwell.
During the sentencing, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun said that Peter Liang would be better served being an aide to the community by performing community assistance as opposed to being incarcerated.
Along with 800 hours community service, Peter Liang’s sentencing will see the former rookie cop placed on five years probation for the November 20, 2014 shooting death of 28 year old father Akai Gurley.
The sentencing also saw Justice Danny Chun reduce the charges against Liang from manslaughter to criminal negligence.
Before sentencing a report via the nypost told of Liang apologizing to Akai Gurley’s girlfriend and the mother of his young daughter.
Told Peter Liang: ‘I’m not a man of many words. The shot was an accident.’
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) April 19, 2016
— CeFaan Kim (@CeFaanKim) April 14, 2016
#AkaiGurley aunt: “This is not a race issue. It’s a human issue.”
— CeFaan Kim (@CeFaanKim) April 14, 2016
Coming into Tuesday’s sentencing, Peter Liang had faced up to 15 years jail after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in February.
Prior to rendering his sentencing, Judge Danny Chun told of ‘genuinely believing’ that Peter Liang had entered the housing project with the intent of ‘protecting the people’ and had never intended to kill anyone.
Told Chun: ‘As I watched the video of the defendant entering the lobby of the Pink Houses, I couldn’t help but feel he was entering with the serious mind of protecting the people’
‘Shooting somebody never entered his mind. This was not an intentional act. This was an act of criminal negligence.’
‘I find incarceration to be unnecessary,”’Chun said. But ‘instead of sitting at home, I think he will be much more productive if he spends more time in community service.’
Adding: ‘I find that given the defendant’s background, and given how remorseful he is that it would not be necessary to incarcerate the defendant to have a just sentence in this case.’
The sentencing left Akai Gurley’s family reeling, with Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen yelling, ‘No justice for Akai Gurley!’
Told the woman as she left the courthouse: ‘Akai Gurley’s life doesn’t matter, black lives don’t matter. But justice will be served one way or another.’
One of Liang’s lawyers, Paul Shechtman, told the judge before the sentencing that despite what some might want him to think, Liang ‘is not a villain or a demon.’
But Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, who was with him when he was killed, addressed Liang in an emotional victim-impact statement, saying, ‘You took a piece of me, you took a piece of my heart.’
‘Akai took his last breath and died in my hands,‘ Butler said. ‘I’m suffering while you still have your life.’
Kimberly Ballinger, the mother of Gurley’s young daughter, added, ‘I will never forget the words of [Mayor] de Blasio when he said [Gurley] should still be alive.’
‘We are outraged at District Attorney Thompson’s inadequate sentencing recommendation,’ the family said in a statement responding to the office’s decision. ‘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.’
— Mary Georgantopoulos (@marygeorgant) April 19, 2016
— thomas macmillan (@TRMacM) April 19, 2016
Upon Peter Liang’s sentencing being rendered the man was whisked off by a car escorted by a police cruiser with its siren on, as throngs of supporters and protesters gathered outside the downtown Brooklyn courthouse.
Outside the courthouse, more than 200 extra cops — including those from the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit — were stationed and metal barricades erected to control potential clashes between supporters and protesters.
Of note was the absence of Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson during the sentencing of Liang.
Leading into the trail, Thompson had called for Liang to receive five years probation, six months of home confinement, and 500 hours of community service. A gesture which saw the lawyer widely criticized by Akai Gurley’s family and community activists.
Told Thompson ahead of Peter Liang’s sentencing: ‘There is no evidence, however, that he intended to kill or injure Akai Gurley. 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.’
‘Mr. Liang has no prior criminal history and poses no future threat to public safety.’
The sentencing comes during a November 20, 2014 incident which saw Peter Liang and NYPD partner Shaun Landau performing a vertical patrol in one of the buildings at the crime riddled Pink Houses housing project when a slamming metal door apparently startled Liang, leading to the rookier cop pulling the trigger on his service-issued .9mm Glock.
Prosecutors had argued that Liang breached department protocol by having his finger on the trigger.
The bullet ricocheted off a cinder-block wall and pierced the heart of Gurley, who was on the landing below the cops.
Further disarray would come as Liang and Landau then spent several minutes arguing over who would call in the shooting instead of rushing to Gurley’s aid.
A building resident tried to revive Gurley, but no avail.
Both Liang and Landau testified that they didn’t jump to the dying man’s aid because they lacked proper CPR training.
The Police Academy instructor who was supposed to have taught them the life-saving technique has since been stripped of her badge and gun while the department probes the allegation.
Akai Gurley’s death came just four months after the death of Eric Garner, another unarmed black man killed by police (though no one was charged in that incident). The case followed a year in which police shootings of unarmed black men led to protests in cities across the United States––in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, Chicago, and New York.
The sentencing of Liang comes as supporters of the former cop said the rookie cop had been made a scapegoat for past injustices.
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) April 9, 2016
— Traci Lee (@traciglee) April 19, 2016