Liang avoids jail in shooting death

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-04-20 10:21
Liang avoids jail in shooting death

Peter Liang, left, walks out the court after the judge sentenced him to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY


 The decision by a judge that enables former New York police officer Peter Liang to avoid jail time after shooting to death an unarmed black man was generally greeted with support from the Chinese and Asian communities and outrage in the black community.

State Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on Tuesday sentenced Liang, 28, to five years of probation and community service after Chun took the rare step of partially setting aside the jury's verdict and reducing Liang's conviction from manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide.

Liang and his partner were on patrol in an unlighted stairwell in a public housing project in Brooklyn on the night of Nov 20, 2014, when Liang testified he heard a noise and his gun went off. A ricocheting bullet struck and killed Akai Gurley, also 28, a floor below, who was visiting his girlfriend.

In February Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct and could have been sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison.

Chun said he made his decision in part after reviewing video of Liang entering the housing project where Gurley was shot.

"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. There's no evidence that the defendant was aware of Akai Gurley's presence. I find incarceration to be unnecessary," said Chun.

Last month Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said his office would not seek prison time for Liang, and instead he recommended that Liang receive five years of probation, including six months of home confinement.

After Chun read his decision to reduce the manslaughter conviction against Liang to the lowest level felony possible and the sentence, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Alexis, who prosecuted the case, registered his objection.

"We disagree…A jury took more than two weeks and heard all the evidence. We believe this verdict was correct and we will appeal," he said.

Leaving the courtroom, Gurley's aunt, Herntencia Peteresen, called out in the hallway: "There is no justice. Akai Gurley's life doesn't matter, black lives don't matter. But justice will be served one way or another."

"Peter Liang's sentence sends a deeply troubling message that police officers convicted of killing unarmed African Americans will be held to a different, and more lenient, standard of justice than everyone else involved in the criminal justice system," Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc, said in a statement.

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