NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Former New York Police Officer Peter Liang was sentenced to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service by New York Judge Danny Chun Tuesday, two months after a jury convicted the former officer of manslaughter and official misconduct. Just before the sentence was handed down, Chun reduced the manslaughter count to criminally negligent homicide.
Liang shot and killed Gurley, an unarmed 28-year-old Brooklyn resident, in the staircase of his public housing building in November 2014. But unlike the other high-profile police shootings that have made headlines in recent years, the two men never actually saw each other. Liang claimed that his gun accidentally fired — the bullet hit a wall before piercing Gurley’s heart as he walked two floors below with this girlfriend.
At trial, Liang claimed that the shooting was accidental, but a jury convicted him of manslaughter in February. The rookie officer was also found guilty of official misconduct for failing to help Gurley as he lay bleeding on a staircase landing.
Despite the conviction, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson wrote that jail time should be taken off the table, because “there is no evidence…that he intended to kill or injure Gurley.” Instead, Thompson recommended six months of house arrest, five years of probation, and a community service requirement.
Thompson was absent from the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, but another prosecutor from his office argued that “Peter Liang can’t be punished for the sins of others who can’t be held accountable for wrongdoing elsewhere” and noted the former officer’s “exemplary life” prior to the shooting.
The case ignited demonstrations in New York City by Black Lives Matter activists and supporters of Gurley’s family, as well as Asian Americans who believed Liang, a Chinese American, was being singled out and scapegoated because of his race. Asian Americans in New York came to his defense, taking to the streets and organizing the largest display of Chinese activism in recent history. But other Asian activists, like the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, wanted to see Liang held accountable.
Last Thursday, hundreds of New Yorkers rallied outside the Brooklyn Supreme Court to support Gurley’s family and to demand justice. Even after the sentencing was postponed due to allegations of juror misconduct, the rally went on, as scheduled.
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) April 14, 2016
“It’s actually very shocking to me how many people support the movement that we have going on,” Gurley’s cousin, Znobia Spears, told ThinkProgress at the rally. “Normally I wouldn’t think that that many people would come out every rally that has gone on so far. It’s kind of eye-opening. People care.”
Several of Gurley’s cousins were present at the rally, and his aunt, Hertencia Petersen, spoke about how hard the ordeal has been on the family. While Liang’s parents will still be able to visit their son in jail, Gurley’s mother has to visit a grave, Petersen said.
“People need to face the facts and that my cousin is no longer here,” his cousin, Mesha Joseph, told ThinkProgress. “There’s a life that was lost and someone needs to be held meaningfully accountable.”