NPR reports that Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson recommended that Justice Danny Chun sentence Liang to six months of house arrest paired with 500 hours of community service and five years on probation. Thompson issued the following statement yesterday (March 23):
Peter Liang was indicted, prosecuted and subsequently convicted by a jury because his reckless actions caused an innocent man to lose his life. There is no evidence, however, that he intended to kill or injure Akai Gurley. When Mr. Liang went into that building that night, he did so as part of his job and to keep the people of Brooklyn and our city safe.
In sentencing a defendant, the facts of the crime and the particular characteristics of that person must be considered. Mr. Liang has no prior criminal history and poses no future threat to public safety. 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.
Justice will be best served if Mr. Liang is sentenced to five years of probation, with the condition that he serves six months of home confinement with electric monitoring and performs 500 hours of community service. I have provided this sentencing recommendation to Justice Chun.
As I have said before, there are no winners here. But the sentence that I have requested is just and fair under the circumstances of this case. From the beginning, this tragic case has always been about justice and not about revenge.
Liang, who is Chinese-American, was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, second-degree reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide and official misconduct after he shot into a dark stairwell and the bullet ricocheted and killed Gurley. His indictment sparked protests around the country, with thousands taking to the streets to say Liang is a scapegoat for a police department with a volatile relationship with people of color.
Liang’s attorneys released their own statement in praise of the recommendation, writing: “Although we disagree with Mr. Thompson on the fundamental issue of Peter Liang’s culpability, he deserves praise for his dispassionate and courageous decision that incarceration is not called for in this case.”
Douglas Lee from the Greater New York Coalition for Supporting Peter Liang agreed, telling The New York Times that he is “very pleased with the tone of Ken Thompson’s statement. Right now I just hope that the judge makes sure that this young man does not get punished for an accident.”
But Gurley’s family thinks it amounts to a slap on the wrist. “We are outraged at District Attorney Thompson’s inadequate sentencing recommendation,” they said in a statement. “Officer Liang was convicted of manslaughter and should serve time in prison for his crime. This sentencing recommendation sends the message that police officers who kill people should not face serious consequences.”
The Times also spoke to Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, a senior organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund who feels the recommendation represents “the devaluation of black and brown lives” and that if a civilian had accidently killed an officer, things would be different. “I think if the shoe were on the other foot, it would be highly unlikely we would having this conversation,” he said.
Liang’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 14. The judge could send him to prison for up to 15 years.