NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The former NYPD officer convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in a dark stairwell apologized Thursday to the victim’s girlfriend, a day after the victim’s family said they were outraged that prosecutors will not seek prison time for the officer.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Peter Liang met briefly with Kimberly Ballinger – the fiancée of Akai Gurley – to express regret over the shooting. The meeting took place at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
Ballinger’s attorney, Scott Rynecki, said Liang expressed remorse over the death of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, and said he is deeply sorry. Ballinger told Liang that because of his actions, her 3-year-old daughter will grow up without a father.
Rynecki says the meeting was arranged by Liang’s attorneys.
On Wednesday, Gurley’s family said they believe Liang should serve time in prison. The 28-year-old rookie officer was convicted in February of a manslaughter charge. He was also dismissed from the police force.
Gurley’s family said Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s recommendation that Liang be sentenced to five years of probation “diminishes Akai’s death.”
“This is a slap in the face to Akai Gurley,” his aunt, Hertencia Petersen, said Wednesday. “His life did not mean anything to DA Thompson.”
Protesters gathered outside Thompson’s office Thursday, saying they took his recommendations personally.
“You hoodwinked us — people of color, your kind,” Petersen said.
Gurley was killed in 2014 after Liang accidentally fired a shot into a stairwell while on a vertical patrol with his partner inside the Pink Houses in East New York.
Prosecutors argued Liang’s actions were reckless and he shouldn’t have had his gun out. Liang’s lawyer said Gurley’s death was tragic, but not a crime.
In addition to probation, Thompson also recommended Liang serve six months of home confinement with electronic monitoring and perform 500 hours of community service. Though the charge carries no requirement for prison time, Liang faced up to 15 years in prison.
“Peter Liang was indicted, prosecuted and subsequently convicted by a jury because his reckless actions caused an innocent man to lose his life,” Thompson said. “There is no evidence, however, that he intended to kill or injure Akai Gurley.”
Like Gurley, Thompson is African-American. But state Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said in this case, justice should not be colorblind.
“A black man that we put in a high position – how dare you get a conviction of manslaughter and then say he not spend a day in jail?” Thompson said. “You are out of your mind.”
Gurley’s family further said they learned of the news from the media and not the DA, CBS2’s Scott Rapoport reported.
“Our family has lost Akai forever,” Petersen said. “How can you tell me it’s OK to murder, to take an innocent life, and not be held accountable?”
Gurley’s family said they would implore Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun to ignore the recommendation and sentence Liang to time in prison at a court proceeding next month.
But Thompson said in his statement that his goal was justice, not revenge. He pointed out that the Brian Conroy – the last officer criminally convicted of killing an unarmed civilian – got a similar sentence.
Community advocate Tony Herbert said Thompson is being fair-minded.
“I actually commend the DA for making the decision — a professional decision that he had to make,” Herbert said. “Either way he would have went, he would have caught hell somewhere.”
Indeed, many in Brooklyn’s large Asian population felt Liang was treated as a scapegoat and should not have been prosecuted for an accident.
“How can we unite together as a unity?” said Steve Chung of the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights. “It’s time to – a healing time instead of fighting each other.”
And Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said Liang should never have been prosecuted, 1010 WINS’ John Montone reported.
“Police officers are human beings and as such can make mistakes while risking their lives to protect the community. Criminalizing a mistake, even a tragic accidental discharge like this, serves no good purpose,” Lynch said in a statement.
Liang’s attorneys issued a statement saying they “steadfastly believe” in their client’s innocence, but called the DA’s decision to recommend a non-jail sentence “exceptional.”
“Although we disagree with Mr. Thompson on the fundamental issue of Peter’s culpability, he deserves praise for his dispassionate and courageous decision that incarceration is not called for in this case,” they said.
Liang’s legal team has also has filed a motion asking the judge to set aside the verdict. If that doesn’t happen, they are planning an appeal.
Judge Chun will sentence Liang next month. He can accept or reject the no-jail recommendation from the DA. Sentencing recommendations from prosecutors typically hold significant weight in most criminal cases.
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