NEW YORK – A rookie police officer will find out whether he will be spared prison time following his manslaughter conviction in the accidental shooting death of an unarmed man in a darkened stairwell.
Peter Liang was fired from the police force shortly after the February jury verdict in the death of Akai Gurley. He is scheduled for sentencing Tuesday. The 28-year-old was patrolling the inside of a public housing project when he opened the stairwell door and fired once. Gurley, also 28, was walking down to the lobby and was struck by the bullet that had ricocheted.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson recommended probation and home confinement, but not prison time.
"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 said in a statement. The decision angered some members of Gurley's family.
But Judge Danny Chun can choose to sentence Liang to up to 15 years behind bars on the manslaughter conviction.
Gurley's death came among a spate of killings by police around the country, and some Liang supporters felt he was scapegoated for the wrongs of other officers who escaped criminal punishment, including the officer involved in Eric Garner's death on Staten Island. Just a few weeks after Gurley was killed, a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death.
Liang testified in his own defense that he was terrified and never meant to shoot anyone. After the trial, he met privately with Gurley's domestic partner and apologized to her. Both he and his partner said they felt unqualified to help aid Gurley as he lay bleeding on the stairwell floor. Gurley's girlfriend gave him CPR as a neighbor yelled instructions from a 911 operator on the telephone.
Last week, Liang's attorneys sought to have the case thrown out based on juror misconduct, but a judge refused.
Liang's attorneys are hopeful the judge will go with the prosecution's recommendation, which is common.