Ex-NYPD Asian cop to be sentenced in stairwell shooting of black man

In a case that has pitted Black Lives Matter activists against Asian American activists, former NYPD officer Peter Liang has been convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed black man in a stairwell in 2014.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Police officer Peter Liang, center, exits the courtroom during a break in closing arguments in his trial on charges in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, at Brooklyn Supreme court in New York in February.

A former rookie police officer convicted of manslaughter will find out Tuesday whether he will be spared from spending time in prison. 

Peter Liang, 28, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison for the death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, whom he shot while he was patrolling a darkened stairwell of a housing project in Brooklyn. The officer was fired from the NYPD shortly after the jury verdict in February.

The prosecutors for the case recommended probation and home confinement as punishment, a decision that has angered some members of Gurley’s family.

"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," said Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Gurley’s shooting came at a time when national attention is focused on the shootings of unarmed black men by police officers, further fueling the tensions. Mr. Liang’s case, however, was different from the protests that helped intensify the Black Lives Matter movement, as he was not being accused of intentionally shooting Gurley. Some Chinese Americans staged protests of their own, saying that Liang was being used as a scapegoat for police misconduct.

During the hearing, Mr. Liang delivered an emotional testimony, saying that what happened was a deadly accident. Mr. Liang and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau were patrolling a darkened stairwell of a housing project on Nov. 20, 2014, when a startling sound prompted Liang to pull the trigger on his service pistol, inadvertently shooting Gurley. But the prosecutors have said that Liang acted recklessly, and did not make any effort to help Gurley after the shooting. Mr. Liang has said that he felt that both he and his partner weren’t qualified to help Gurley.

The sentencing is now up to State Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun. The supreme court justice recently rejected a motion by Liang’s lawyers seeking for a new trial. The lawyers argued that one of the jurors in the case had failed to disclose that his father had been convicted of manslaughter. The judge denied the claim saying that the defense had failed to prove that the juror’s omission violated Liang's rights.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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