NYPD

No Prison Time For NYPD Officer Who Killed Unarmed Man, Then Texted Union Rep Instead of Helping

Peter Liang gets probation and community service for killing Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell.

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Peter Liang, the rookie NYPD officer who

No jail time for Peter Liang
Dreamstime.com/Zimmytws

shot and killed unarmed Akai Gurley as he entered the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project on November 20, 2014, will serve no prison time after Justice Danny K. Chun reduced the jury's guilty verdict of manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. 

Criminally negligent homicide is a felony, which will prevent Liang from resuming his career in law enforcement, and carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Following Liang's conviction last month, New York's District Attorney Kenneth Thompson recommended Liang, who was facing a maximum of 15 years behind bars, be sentenced to six months house arrest, five years probation and 500 hours of community service. Justice Chun imposed an even lighter sentence: five years probation, 800 hours of community service, no house arrest.  

The New York Daily News reports that Thompson wrote a letter to Chun following the conviction which read in part, "Because the incarceration of the defendant is not necessary to protect the public, and because of the unique circumstances of this case, the People do not believe that a prison sentence is warranted."

But even though the sentence the judge imposed is similar to the one Thompson recommended, the DA strenuously objected to the reduced charges. Per the Daily News:

"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," he said, adding that his office plans to appeal that part of the ruling.

On the day of Gurley's death, Liang and his partner had been performing a "vertical patrol" in the stairwells of Brooklyn's Pink Houses housing project, in direct defiance of their supervisor's instructions. The lighting in the stairwells was poor and Liang had his gun drawn with his finger on the trigger as he descended the stairs. 

Gurley and his girlfriend (who is also the mother of his now 3-year-old daughter) Melissa Butler, had tired of waiting for a non-functioning elevator and entered the stairwell. Liang became spooked by the sound of people entering one floor below and apparently accidentally fired a bullet which ricocheted off the wall one floor below and into Gurley's chest. 

As Gurley lay dying, Butler attempted CPR, while Liang cried in panic and texted his police union representative. Worse, because neither Liang nor his partner had their wits about them, they were unable to pinpoint their location which would have allowed dispatchers to send medical assistance to Gurley. 

Patrick Lynch, the head of New York's police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), said after Liang's conviction in February that it was a "bad verdict" which "criminalizes a tragic accident" and will have a "chilling effect" on policing. Last year, Lynch vigorously opposed NYPD Commissioner William Bratton's proposal to document all instances where officers use force into a publicly searchable database, calling it "another nail in the coffin of proactive policing."

In a "victim-impact statement," Butler tod Liang, "Akai took his last breath and died in my hands. I'm suffering while you still have your life." The New York Times reports that Gurley's aunt, Hertencia Petersen, shouted in the hallway outside the courtroom folloiwing the sentencing, "There is no justice! Akai Gurley's life didn't matter!"

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  1. No Prison Time For NYPD Officer Who Killed Unarmed Man, Then Texted Union Rep Instead of Helping

    Jeez, he contacted someone! There’s no pleasing you people!

    1. I’m not sure how he can help the guy if he is already dead. Maybe the headline should say “shot” instead of “killed”.

      1. He certainly did kill him, and he shot him too. The important factor here is that he acted nobly, texting a union representative to make sure the matter could be dealt with as discreetly as possible, always an appropriate way of proceeding in such delicate circumstances. Incarceration is certainly unwarranted, especially when space needs to be kept available for predators, trolls, and ? despite the outrageous “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated, liberal judge ? certain recalcitrant individuals who send out inappropriately deadpan “parodies” that damage reputations. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. Patrick Lynch, the head of New York’s police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), said after Liang’s conviction in February that it was a “bad verdict” which “criminalizes a tragic accident” and will have a “chilling effect” on policing.

    Let’s not bicker and argue over ‘hoo killed ‘hoo.

    1. Police Union heads are generally terrible people, but Lynch is the worst.

    2. Given the way guys like Liang police, a chilling effect would be welcome.

      1. -1 guns ablazin’

      2. Prison sentences could chill the activities of murderers, drug dealers, muggers, rapists…

        Oh, wait. That’s why those people actually get sentenced to prison.

    3. “criminalizes a tragic accident”

      That’s kind of what negligent homicide is all about.

      And if this verdict has the effect of “chilling” officers’ who might otherwise fire randomly in stairwells for no reason, well I’m okay with that.

      Seriously, this Lynch guy has no conscience.

      1. Plaxico Burress spent 20 months in prison for accidentally shooting himself.

        1. That’s different, he was exercising his 2nd amendment rights without a permission slip from the State.

    4. Umm, it wasn’t an accident that he broke policy and entered the stairwell.

      It wasn’t an accident that he had his gun out when there was no threat.

      It wasn’t an accident that this moron had his trigger on the finger, violating basic gun safety.

      The only “accident” was that he tripped. What actually resulted in the guy dying wasn’t the result of an accident at all.

  3. Give the poor ex-cop a break. He didn’t mean to kill the guy! Besides, he’s been fired* and isn’t that punishment enough?

    *at least for now

    1. With a felony on his record he won’t be working as a cop for any department. So at least there’s that.

      1. …until his appeal is successful (and you know it will be) for reasons.

        1. Is he going to appeal? Liang would be smart to just lie low and try to get on with his life.

          1. His behavior indicates that he is not only not smart, he is also a coward who should never, ever have had a badge. Or a gun.

      2. Thought that was a pre-req for applying to MD State Police …

  4. “Because the incarceration of the defendant is not necessary to protect the public, and because of the unique circumstances of this case, the People do not believe that a prison sentence is warranted.”

    See, I actually agree with this. Throwing people in prison for tragic accidents doesn’t protect anyone.

    The problem is that if someone who wasn’t a cop did the same thing, that same DA would send them up the river for the rest of their natural life so he could show how Tuff on Gunz he is.

    1. I agree. Now that Liang isn’t a cop he probably isn’t a threat to anyone. Putting him in jail or even in house arrest does nothing to further increase the safety of the community. It’s much better to handle this with probation, fines, community service, and (via a civil case) restitution to whatever family Gurley has. I’m pretty sure that a sentence like this is an adequate deterrent to other officers who might be similarly negligent.

      The real tragedy, as Hugh points out, is the double standard between those with badges and those without.

      1. Besides, he won’t be able to carry a firearm, which is what has been established as the problem. Got that itchy trigger finger…

        1. This just in… Reason.com commenters support denial of Constitutional right to bear arms!

    2. The problem is that if someone who wasn’t a cop did the same thing, that same DA would send them up the river for the rest of their natural life so he could show how Tuff on Gunz he is.

      That’s exactly the problem. In a vacuum and based on my limited knowledge of the facts and New York law, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the verdict or the sentence, though walking around with your finger on the trigger is something I’d weigh heavily against him. My main problem with the outcome is that Joe Citizen wouldn’t get the same consideration that the guy with more gun training got.

      1. Yeah if Plaxico Burress gets two years for shooting himself then this guy should get at least the same two years.

    3. ^THIS.
      That’s what annoys me about the reaction to this sentencing. Everybody’s on about how this light a sentence wouldn’t have happened if Gurley were white. There may be something to that, but it’s absolutely true that no civilian would have been sentenced to probation for ‘accidentally’ shooting someone under weird circumstances, then not calling for help.

      1. Yet the MSM will present only two perspectives – either the sentence was OK, or else there’s white supremacists everywhere.

        The idea that this is a serious problem but white supremacy isn’t the primary cause…that’s not going to get discussed outside a few places like here.

        1. And no one will notice the fact that “Liang” isn’t a typical white supremacist name.

          1. But but but the police chief is white! No… that’s not it.

            Um… the mayor’s white. Yeah, that’s it! This goes all the way to the top!

      2. If sentencing were based on restitution and not on punishment, I would love to see the guy sentenced to a chain gang with the proceeds of his labor remitted to the victim’s family. The term of his sentence would be based on the remittance he owes for the loss of income and whatever other interests factor into the value of the life he took.

        Instead, the taxpayer gets to pony up the difference and this guy is put on what I’m sure will be clerical work with minimal labor or public exposure or value to society.

    4. Putting people in prison can serve as a deterrent. If you wantonly disregard high risks that result in accidents perhaps prison is warranted. For example, if you drive your car with a BAC of .3 and then kill someone accidentally because you’re seeing triple, and this is not the first time you’ve been caught driving drunk, maybe that warrants prison.

      1. I don’t think prison is warranted in this case. I was responding to the generalization that “throwing people in prison for tragic accidents doesn’t protect anyone.”

        1. Maybe in this case there are some mitigating circumstances I’m unaware of, but I would think, in general, if you walk around with a loaded gun and it “goes off” and kills some innocent person, then prison is the proper sentence. Especially if you’re a public servant given special privileges so that you can *protect* the lives of the public.

          The point isn’t that he’ll do it again, which I doubt he will, but that the system needs to recognize the seriousness of the offense, and warn others what will happen if they do stupid shit that kills people.

          1. I could even see having students from the police academy visiting the prison and talking to ex-cops serving long sentences for “tragic accidents.”

            Scare them straight.

          2. So much this that I logged in just to agree with you!

        2. Yeah I’m open to the idea of prison for people who repeatedly demonstrate themselves to be dangerously negligent assholes like repeat reckless drivers. But in this case I think barring Liang from ever holding a gun in a professional setting again, combined with public service and restitution, is about all that is warranted.

          1. Cooling his heels in prison for a few years would, to me, have been an excellent outcome. Like I say, let police academy cadets visit the prison and find out what a stupid “tragic accident” will get you.

            1. There’s something collectivist and exploitative about sentencing people to be cautionary tales.

              1. I believe the term is “deterrence.”

                1. And think about the next time a cop has a “tragic accident.”

                  His lawyer will point to this case to show that prison isn’t the appropriate punishment, and imposing prison would “be inconsistent with the punishment given out in similar cases.”

                  And if the system can’t even muster the nerve to imprison a rookie cop whose crime is blatantly obvious, what will they do with a more sophisticated defendant, a “cop with years of service” who is more skilled at the art of coverup and has colleagues on the force willing to go to bat for him?

                2. I’m familiar with the euphemism.

                  1. Punishing killers, and deterring other would-be killers, is one of the legitimate “collectivist” functions of the government.

                    I know that Manny Kant wouldn’t like what I’m saying, but I don’t think his penology is the be-all and end-all.

                    1. Actually Kant seems to be fine with punishments serving a deterrent function, so long as you prevaricate on the justification for it by pretending that putting the screws to a criminal is about punishment rather than scaring people into obedience.

                    2. Well, I didn’t know that part of Kant’s work would be on the test – why wasn’t it in the Cliff’s Notes?

                      Also, there’s this:

                      “The retributivist theory of punishment leads to Kant’s insistence on capital punishment. He argues that the only punishment possibly equivalent to death, the amount of inflicted harm, is death. Death is qualitatively different from any kind of life, so no substitute could be found that would equal death.”

                    3. So I’m kind of soft on crime with my babbling about prison.

                    4. A) You’re the one who brought up Kant, and B) He was wrong about a great many things, including capital punishment and retribution generally.

                    5. Well, excuse the heck out of me!

                    6. Punishing killers, and deterring other would-be killers, is one of the legitimate “collectivist” functions of the government.

                      Deterrence is a power not granted to the government, and is thus reserved by the people. The government has a monopoly on prosecution and imprisonment to protect them from us. Not the other way around.

                    7. If you’re convicted then you forfeit a portion of your liberty or labor to the public – the amount is proportioned to the gravity of the offense.

                      The government, on the public’s behalf, can use the convict’s punishment to support the law-abiding part of the public by advertising to potential offenders “this is what could happen to you.”

                    8. It’s not the *only* basis of punishment, but I’m not going to *categorically* exclude it.

                    9. Not only did you miss the point of what I said, but you also decided to throw in yet another power the state does not have, that of forcibly extracting labor.

                    10. It’s in the Thirteenth Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, *except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,* shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [emphasis added]

                    11. That doesn’t grant the power, it only says it’s not forbidden.

                    12. Even so, that’s besides the point. The purpose of punishment is punishment. Deterrent and slave labor are side effects.

              2. Nothing else seems to be working against King’s Men. They get special privileges, they should pay special costs when they really screw up.

                1. It stands to reason that someone granted special authority to use violence, such as a police officer is granted, should then be held as an exemplar in the event such permission to violence is abused. An officer who has misused permission to use violence should be given the maximum sentence and mitigating circumstanced might bring it down a bit but there should not be a consideration that their position entitles them to leniency when they abuse the privilege.

              3. HA- We aren’t talking about sentencing a person, we’re talking about a cop. Cops are a totally different from people, as they are always quick to point out.

      2. True. But I think Liang’s disregard for the high risk of walking around with his finger on the trigger was specifically incident to his position as a police officer on patrol. Now that he’s not a police officer, he won’t be patrolling dark stairwells at night any more. Had he killed a pedestrian while running a red light in his cruiser or something, I’d be inclined to agree with you.

        1. I have two problems with not jailing this guy.

          (1) The double standard, as noted.

          (2) The message to other cops.

    5. Because the incarceration of the defendant is not necessary to protect the public

      Bull.Fucking.Shit.

      Throwing people in prison for tragic accidents doesn’t protect anyone.

      You throw people into asylums to protect society. Prison is punishment. And while I hate the idea that some omnipotent yet faceless government metes out “punishment” like some sort of half-assed parent, the alternate is vigilante style justice which I also don’t think is a good idea. So be it then, but make no mistake, people like this who are not capable of being productive members of society, yet somehow feel that they occupy a position of respect or authority, need to be punished for for acts like this to 1. show them how wrong they are, and 2. hopefully dissuade others from feeling the same way.

      1. But maybe he is capable of being a productive member of society. He is just clearly not qualified to wield a weapon or a position of authority, and he will no longer be allowed to do so.

        1. But maybe he is capable of being a productive member of society.

          When we start saying that abut everyone who commits negligent homicide and letting them walk, I’ll think about it for cops.

      2. The problem here isn’t the need for punishment, it’s the form of punishment. The prison system is a wrongheaded approach to criminal punishment; it’s ineffective, bloated, hugely abusive and bakes in a number of perverse incentives. Rather than focusing on punishment, we should focus on remuneration. If you’ve wronged someone, you’re obligated to make him whole again. Criminal convictions should carry debts to the victim(s). Chain gang companies should be able to buy a prisoner’s debts from his victims, and then extract payments from the prisoner in terms of labor or expertise. Profitable chain gangs would be those who compel the convict to work, meaning offering good terms. Victims would also have a say in which company’s bid they accept: punitive companies would be necessarily less profitable and could bid only so high, while human companies could expect to reap a higher premium on their prisoners’ debts, and so bid higher. Victims can then decide whether punishment or remuneration carries more worth to them.

        1. I like the idea of imposing some kind of restitution debt on offenders. At the very least the state could garnish wages or impose special taxes on offenders to pay them off. There’s still potential for abuse and debt slavery, but it’s a much better solution than throwing people in a box for years of their lives.

          1. Not to mention: what satisfaction do victims or their families get besides having to content themselves that their aggressor is punished? The court enjoys fines and fees, the prosecutor enjoys the benefit of the conviction, and police get to justify their funding, the prison bills for bed the criminal fills. The State enjoys every tangible benefit stemming from the conviction, leaving the victim with the intangible satisfaction of relinquishing to the State responsibility for punishment and tries to soak up whatever’s left over of the convict’s wealth in a civil trial.

            1. Exactly. Victims aren’t made whole or compensated in any way by throwing perpetrators in prison.

              1. I’m probably being naive. The current prison system is the result of a number of factors, not all of them the result of criminal law. I mean, just how much criminality is attributable to prohibition? A good deal, no doubt, but if gangsterism is purely a matter of circumventing prohibition laws and operating in a black market, why the need for so much violence? It’s not just about staking out territory and operating ruthlessly in the service of providing a product, but coup-counting and taking scalps and terrorizing competitors. Gangsterism is more about identity than market economics. A lot of that is attributable to ingrained social and cultural dynamics, some of it the result of historical oppression, some of it a matter of ethnic pride, and a lot, I think, the product of public intervention in the form of welfare policy and other feats of social engineering. Those aren’t matters that repealing bad criminal laws will address. So you’re left with a hardcore set of basically unemployable losers who express a greater fealty to their subcultures than to their own desire for freedom. What would a private chain gang bid for a tatted convict with few discernible skills, no sense of personal propriety, and a penchant for violence? I can imagine a lot of criminals house in Leavenworth or San Quentin would end up on the libertarian equivalent of death row for having nothing of value to offer their victims.

    6. And the guy that kills his wife for cheating on him is no threat to the public either, unless they are also married to him and having an affair.

      1. A very good point.

    7. Agreed. The double standard and low IQ requirements are an issue, not necessarily the punishment here. I’m not saying the punishment given was the correct one, I don’t know the particulars, but his super powers were removed so now if he does it again the DA will probably crucify him. I imagine in the police world that’s a fate worse than death.

    8. I might be inclined to agree that prison wasn’t warranted if he didn’t display such terrible indifference afterwards. Had he tried to safe Gurley’s life and contacted parademics with their location, then ok maybe he’s just a guy who was responsible for a terrible accident. Texting your union rep while doing nothing to stop him from bleeding out negates that argument entirely for me.

  5. To the governing classes, even admittedly innocent “civilians” are dirt between their toes, to be washed out and flushed down the toilet.

    They probably think that firing the guy was a major concession – but they would find it risible to think that some random “civilian’s” life is worth the freedom of even the most junior member of the Club.

  6. Maybe his community service can be spent sweeping out stairwells in run-down apartment buildings. Give him a broom with a black, scary looking handle.

    1. +1 assault broom

      1. does it have the shoulder thing that goes up? It’s not really an assault broom without it.

  7. I’m not really sure why we have these stories anymore, we all already know the outcome ahead of time. Is it just the obligatory daily nut punch?

    1. Just a reminder of your place in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, peasant.

  8. I keep getting ads for 3D printers. It must be a sign. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to print. A dildo? A bong? Maybe a dildo that’s also a bong!

      1. Now try to unsee *that* image.

        1. “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with… an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole… it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

          1. -Tolkien, on the subject of Bilbo’s hole.

      2. Is that a door? It hasn’t got a lintel. Its like half window, half door. Maybe its a windoor. You can have that.

    1. Go ahead.

      Google “dildo bong”.

      I dares ya. I double dog dares ya.

  9. Because the incarceration of the defendant is not necessary to protect the public

    Um, apparently it *is*.

  10. New Rule: any judge who uses the words “the People” to refer to themselves making a judgment should be fired.

    Note: by saying that a judge should be fired i mean in the sense that a persons job is terminated, not that they should be burned alive or sent to a hellish landscape always on fire.

  11. Let’s hope the verdict ‘ will have a “chilling effect” ‘ on cops firing their guns in random directions at “perceived threats” which are nothing of the sort.

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