The Brooklyn District Attorney is recommending that Peter Liang receive no jail time when he is sentenced in April for the shooting death of Akai Gurley.
In a statement received by NBC News Wednesday afternoon, Ken Thompson said he will ask Justice Danny Chun to sentence Liang, 28, to five years probation and require that he serve six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring. Thompson is also asking that Liang perform 500 hours of community service.
He added that there was no evidence Liang intended to kill or injure Gurley, 28, while conducting a vertical patrol of an unlit stairwell with his gun drawn in a Brooklyn housing project on Nov. 20, 2014.
“Mr. Liang has no prior criminal history and poses no future threat to public safety,” Thompson said. “Because his incarceration is not necessary to protect the public, and due to the unique circumstances of this case, a prison sentence is not warranted.”
Thompson’s recommendation, which is not binding, comes a little more than a week after Liang’s new appeals attorneys filed a written motion to set aside his Feb. 11 conviction on second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct.
The 21-page memorandum of law, submitted by Paul Shechtman and Gabriel J. Chin, argues that Liang did not recklessly cause Gurley’s death and that police procedures did not require Liang to administer CPR to Gurley, a procedure in which Liang’s attorneys say the rookie officer was “grossly inadequately” trained.
“Although we disagree with Mr. Thompson on the fundamental issue of Peter’s culpability, he deserves praise for his dispassionate and courageous decision that incarceration is not called for in this case,” Shechtman and Chin said in a statement to NBC News.
Cathy Dang, executive director of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, told NBC News that she participated in a meeting attended by 14 people at the Brooklyn DA’s office Wednesday afternoon about Liang’s sentence recommendation, but said no one from Gurley’s family was present. Officials, however, said Gurley’s family had known about Thompson’s recommendation before it was announced Wednesday.
In a statement Wednesday evening, the Gurley family said it was outraged by Thompson’s sentencing recommendation and said Liang should serve time in prison.
“This sentencing recommendation sends the message that police officers who kill people should not face serious consequences,” the statement reads. “It is this on-going pattern of a severe lack of accountability for officers that unjustly kill and brutalize New Yorkers that allows the violence to continue.”
Dang, whose organization has supported the Gurley family since the shooting, expressed disappointment over the recommendation of no jail time.
“Today, [Thompson] just reinforced that we can continue to lose faith in our justice system that does wrong by all families who lose their family members to police violence,” Dang said.
Liang testified at trial that the shooting was an accident. The bullet, fired from the eighth floor, ricocheted off a cement wall, striking Gurley who had entered with his friend Melissa Butler from the floor below. Butler tried resuscitating the 28 year old, who collapsed on the fifth-floor landing, based on instructions relayed to her through a neighbor who spoke by phone with an emergency medical dispatcher.
“The initial reaction is, of course, it’s a relief for Peter and his family that probably, with the DA’s recommendation, he will not have any jail time,” Phil Gim, who helped organize a Feb. 20 Brooklyn rally in support of Liang that attracted thousands of demonstrators told NBC News.
“As I have said before, there are no winners here,” Thompson said. “But the sentence that I have requested is just and fair under the circumstances of this case.”
“Criminalizing a mistake, even a tragic accidental discharge like this, serves no good purpose,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement Wednesday. “The reasons cited by the DA for justifying no jail time in this tragedy are the very same reasons that the officer should not have been indicted in the first place.”
Liang faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced April 14.