Ex-NYPD Officer Who Shot and Killed Unarmed Man in Stairwell Avoids Jail Time, Sentenced to Probation and Community Service
Former NYPD police officer Peter Liang was sentenced in a New York court on Tuesday for his fatal shooting of an unarmed man in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing project.
According to ABC, Liang was sentenced to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service.
He will not face any jail time.
Although Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson agreed that, considering the circumstances surrounding the incident, Liang did not deserve prison time, he did request that the former policeman spend six months on house arrest, along with five years on probation and 500 hours of community service.
“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,” Thompson said in a statement released on Tuesday. “The jury, the voice of the Brooklyn community, agreed and returned the verdict of guilty against Mr. Liang, who is now a convicted felon, forfeited his career as a police officer and must now always live with the fact that he recklessly caused Mr. Gurley’s death.”
According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Liang was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in February. He was reportedly fired from the police department soon after his conviction.
Although an attempt to have the original ruling thrown out was denied, the judge reduced his charge of manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide on Tuesday before handing down his sentence. The original manslaughter charge carried up to 15 years in prison.
The district attorney added in his statement that he disagrees “with the judge’s decision to reduce the jury’s verdict and will fight to reverse it on appeal.”
The incident that ignited Liang’s criminal case occurred in November of 2014 when Liang and his partner were conducting a vertical patrol in the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn.
According to a statement from Thompson released at the time of the shooting, Liang pulled out his service revolver and pushed open a door that lead to a darkened stairwell. After hearing a sound, he fired the weapon once, which is when the bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck Akai Gurley, 28 – who had been on a walk with his girlfriend and just entered the stairwell – in the chest.
The press release continues, stating that Liang – who had graduated from the police academy 18 months earlier – violated guidelines because he failed to place his finger outside the trigger guard and point his gun in a safe direction when he drew his weapon.
He was also convicted of official misconduct for failing to immediately report the incident, as he “argued with his partner about who would radio in the incident and later failed to render any medical aid,” while Gurley’s girlfriend, Melissa Butler, performed CPR and a neighbor called 911.
Butler was present in court on Tuesday and cried as she left, escorted by Assemblyman Charles Barron, ABC reports.
“I never expected this to happen,” Butler reportedly said. “I’m just confused about what happened. What made the charges be reduced?”
Meanwhile, Liang’s attorney Paul Shechtman told ABC that his client did not rejoice in the sentence, and they’re still trying to decide if they will appeal Liang’s conviction.
“There was no happiness in him today. It’s just been really hard,” Shechtman said. “No decisions have been made and it’s a complicated chess board.”