#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Akai Gurley?

The rookie cop convicted of killing an unarmed black man in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project won’t spend even one night in jail for the crime.”This is bull—-! The system is f—ed up,” one spectator snapped after Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun sentenced Peter Liang to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service for the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley.

“Akai’s life doesn’t matter,” Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen, fumed. “Another black man has been murdered by the hands of the Police Department. And the officer is not being held accountable. “Outside the courthouse, scores of angry protesters chanted “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

The mild-mannered Liang showed little emotion when he learned his fate – or when he pleaded his case to the judge, saying he regretted the “devastation” he caused when his gun went off in the dimly lit stairwell.

“I was in shock. I could barely breathe. The shot was accidental, but someone was dead,” he said.

Liang, 28, was convicted in February of manslaughter – a charge that could have resulted in up to 15 years in prison. Chun reduced the charge to criminally negligent homicide at the sentencing.”There’s no evidence Peter Liang was aware of Akai Gurley’s presence,” Chun said.

“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.”

Gurley’s family had called for prison time for the cop, but Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson had asked the judge to spare him prison time.”Because the incarceration of the defendant is not necessary to protect the public, and because of the unique circumstances of this case, the People do not believe that a prison sentence is warranted,” Thompson wrote in a letter to Chun last month.

Thompson, who was not in the courtroom for the sentencing, recommended Liang receive a sentence of six months house arrest, 500 hours of community service and five years’ probation.

After the sentencing, the DA chided the judge for his decision to reduce the conviction to criminally negligent homicide, a non-violent felony.

“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,” he said, adding that his office plans to appeal that part of the ruling.

The judge said he reduced the charge because prosecutors hadn’t shown Liang “consciously disregarded” a substantial risk of death.

The fatal shooting occurred in November of 2014, when Liang and his partner were performing a vertical patrol in the Pink Houses. Liang had his gun drawn as they entered the stairwell, and testified he had his finger on the side of his weapon.Then he heard a loud noise — quite possibly the door closing two floors below, where Gurley and his friend Melissa Butler had entered the stairwell because the elevator wasn’t working.

“It startled me (then) the gun just went off,” Liang testified during the trial.

The bullet ricocheted off the wall and hit Gurley in the chest. Liang and partner Shaun Landau then spent precious minutes bickering over who should report the shooting, unaware Gurley was dying two floors down.

Gurley, 28, died a short time later. Liang was fired from the NYPD immediately after the conviction. Landau has also been fired.In a highly unusual move, Liang sat down with Kimberly Ballinger, the mom of Gurley’s 3-year-old daughter Akaila, for a private five-minute meeting in Thompson’s offices last month.

Liang “told her how deeply sorry he was,” said his lawyer, Paul Shectman. “He said, ‘I know you lost a loved one, a provider. I couldn’t be sadder.'”

Speaking at the sentencing, Ballinger said, “My daughter Akaila is without a father, his mother is without a son. He was my partner, a great father. I’ll never forget what Mayor de Blasio said to me that night — that Akai was innocent and should still be alive.”

Liang was the first NYPD officer to be convicted in a fatal shooting in over a decade

*Originally published on NY Daily News.

 

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