Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fatal Police Officer Shooting Sentencing

Former New York Police Officer Peter Liang was not sentenced to serve any prison time for fatally shooting unarmed Akai Gurley accidentally in an unlit Brooklyn housing project stairwell two years ago. Instead, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun gave him five years of probation and 800 hours of community service as it was declared that the act was unintentional.

"Liang said a loud noise surprised him and his gun accidentally fired." Mr. Gurley was killed by a ricochet bullet form Mr. Liang's gun while Liang was on patrol with his partner. "In February, a jury convicted him of manslaughter and official misconduct, rejecting his testimony that the gun had simply gone off in his hand and finding that he had failed to help Mr. Gurley as he lay dying on a fifth-floor landing." Liang and his partner were unaware anyone had been shot as they reported the discharge of the gun to their superior. Neither of the officers knew CPR when they discovered the injured Mr. Gurley.

The shooting was ruled an accident and the judge reduced the jury's verdict of manslaughter to a less severe criminally negligent homicide charge. Initially, Liang had been facing 15 years in prison. This case is politically influenced as it took place in Brooklyn where there are concerns over police accountability, specifically in black neighborhoods. Mr. Gurley was of African American descent. "It is rare for police officers even to be charged and brought to court in shooting cases." "Liang was the first NYPD officer in more than a decade convicted of an on-duty killing. Critics of the verdict said Liang had been offered up as an Asian scapegoat while for years white officers had done worse and gotten away with it." Outside of court, black protesters supported the Gurley family while Chinese protestors supported Liang.

Akai Gurley's family was severely distraught over the verdict claiming, “There is no justice! Akai Gurley’s life didn’t matter!” However, Mr. Liang did apologize to the victim's loved ones saying, “The shot was accidental....My life has forever changed.”

Mr. Thompson, Brooklyn's first black district attorney, who "vowed to owed to bring a heightened sense of social justice to the borough’s communities of color," "issued a letter recommending that Mr. Liang should not serve time in prison. The letter referred to Mr. Gurley as “a completely innocent man who lost his life for no reason,” but also said Mr. Liang had no prior criminal history and posed no threat to public safety."

Based on what I have read so far, I think that Liang's sentence was just. Police officers risk their lives on the job and will need to react when their lives are in danger. He did not intentionally kill Mr. Gurley and is still being punished. Moreover, he lost his job and the event changed his entire life.

Questions:
Do you support Liang's sentence for fatally injuring Mr. Gurley? If not, what would you change?
Do you think that police officers should be more severely punished for accidental killings while on duty?


http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2016/04/peter-liang-sentenced/478248/
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/20/nyregion/peter-liang-ex-new-york-police-officer-sentenced-akai-gurley-shooting-death-brooklyn.html?ref=todayspaper
http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-liang-sentencing-20160419-story.html

10 comments:

Elliot Quan said...

I was curious to what extent the shooting was an accident, and I found this article regarding the location of the shooting: http://nypost.com/2014/11/22/tenants-live-in-fear-at-the-notorious-pink-houses/. From the description and the images, it definitely seems like a very scary place to be, especially for a rookie cop with under 2 years of experience with the NYPD (according to Wikipedia). I'm not going to make any race comment here, but my conclusion is the same as the judge's: it was a dangerous situation (vertical patrolling in a housing project notorious for crime) that led to an accidental shooting. Should Liang not have kept his gun unholstered and his finger on the trigger? I really can't blame him given the unique circumstances, unlike in other cases where cops simply murder teenagers in broad daylight. This just seems an unfortunate situation all around.

Nevan Samadhana said...

First off, although it is a small detail, I find it very surprising that both police officers did not know CPR. I think that police officers should be ready to respond with something that is relatively common knowledge in the field of on site assistance and response. I understand that the murder was totally accidental but that should not excuse him of prison time. Compassion is shown in this case and not justice. Involuntary manslaughter, no matter how how unintentional should illicit at least some time in prison.

ETHAN CHAO said...

Of all the shootings that we hear on the news, at least a small number of them were probably accidents. Officer Liang was probably on the edge, and overreacted in fear for his life. Although his partner was African-American, and that some may call racism on this case, we must also consider that not all African-American killed were the result of racism. However, we must also think about how Liang didn't help his partner as he was dying, for some reason. The fact that other officers and Liang didn't know CPR or medical procedures was disturbing though, as we expect first responders to be ready for anything and not have to let someone bleed out before the ambulance comes. We will probably never know for sure what really went down that day, and that also means we shouldn't be pointing fingers blindly and calling out racism.

Langston Swiecki said...

While I think the ruling of the shooting being an accident in this case is just, there still needs to be repercussions for such shootings. Police must not be made to feel that they are above the law, even at the expense of the officer who made this mistake, for their actions have dramatic impacts on families of, friends of, and not to mention the actual individual who was robbed of his life. This being said, Liang's case is certainly is not at the forefront of police brutality, so I see why a balance needed to be struck between the desire for justice through punishment and the compassion for a police officer who still has most of his life ahead of him. Police, in this modern world, need to find an appropriate balance between securing the safety of citizens and conducting themselves in an safe manner, and using the law as a device to shift this balance to reach a healthy equilibrium is for the best of society at large, but this necessitates a few scapegoats.

Kristen Tamsil said...

Being a police officer is a tough job. Being a police officer in a rough, crime ridden neighborhood is an impossible job these days. We tend to generalize and leverage opinions based on the "current events" as portrayed in the mainstream media, including the internet. So many police brutality reports mask the real hard work that goes into keeping our neighborhood safe. This is the "tail wagging the dog" syndrome. Most police officers are doing their job with good intentions. In the case of Office Liang, mistakes are made. He feared for his life, probably lied about the event that leads to the actual accidental shooting. Unfortunately a life is lost and that's a tragedy. Officer Liang was also punished, lost his job, made notorious in the media and probably needed to leave town and never would he be employed as an officer of the law again.

Brianna Panozzo said...

I think that this case being ruled as an accident was just, as Mr. Liang had no idea he had actually shot someone. However, as Nevan pointed out, the fact that neither of the police officers knew CPR is an indication of a bigger problem in the police community, as these situations are bound to happen and we need people that are going to be prepared when lives are in danger. I do not think that police officers should be more severely punished since they are given guns for a reason- to protect us. If they are given guns to use, why should they be punished and nationally condemned for doing their jobs? This obviously doesn't apply to this case, since the firing was accidental. I understand if it was an act of racism (and obviously so, since the line is blurry) that a police officer would be punished, however this job is dangerous and it is necessary for officers to protect themselves. An accident such as this is tragic, but the officer should pay minimally for it, as he now has to carry this death on his shoulders.

Christopher Duan said...

I support the decision made by the court and his punishment. A crime is a crime, and that is what the law is for. This is important because though he was the first officer punished in over a decade for on duty killing, it is a step in the right direction, especially since it IS the first in a decade, which is part of the problem.

I believe that police officers should be punished to the same extent as any other person for wrong killings while on duty. They are no different than normal citizens, if it is wrongdoing, and a badge does not give or remove any privilege in terms of murder or manslaughter.

Jessica Yeh said...

I agree with all the above comments. Gurley's family also does deserve closure, but I do think Liang's sentence was just. This was also an interesting case as it brought up much conflict in the Asian-American community; many protests were held in defense of Peter Liang, while others believed he should be duly punished. Asian-Americans seldom appear in headlines in American news and in general are less involved in social justice movements, and this case certainly added to discussion on racial inequity, for African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/magazine/how-should-asian-americans-feel-about-the-peter-liang-protests.html

TJ Bonbright said...

While the killing of an innocent man is a terrible loss, I think that severely punishing Liang will not solve the problem. Plus, considering the circumstances of the shooting, it would be unfair to give Liang 15 years of prison or some equivalent to that. As pointed out by above comments, the house's atmosphere possessed an eerie and intimidating feel, which puts a young officer under a great amount of pressure. Adding in the extra danger of the profession, and you have a high tendency to feel anxious on the job. Liang was surprised and fired as a result of likely both instinct and a conscious desire to protect himself. While this did result in the death of another person, it is important to consider that many people in his position might also cause this kind of accident if under similar circumstances. I think some punishment is warranted, for Liang did kill someone after all; however, the punishment Liang has been administered is sufficient given the circumstances.

Alex Binsacca said...

I can agree with everyone else on this thread of comments, the ruling of this case was pretty just as the of death of this young man did seem like an accident. However, I am curious as to why neither of the police officer had a flash light or something on them. If they did, then I am pretty sure this death would never had taken place. Also, I am surprised that a profession in law enforcement does not require education in CPR. The end result is police officers need to be trained better incase an event like this does happen to them, while serving in the line of duty.