LDF on Peter Liang’s Sentence of No Prison Time for the Killing of Akai Gurley

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is deeply disappointed that Judge Danny Chun did not sentence former New York City Police Officer Peter Liang to prison for the killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed African American. Instead, Judge Chun reduced Mr. Liang’s charge and sentenced him to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service, largely in keeping with the recommendation by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Mr. Liang, who was tried and convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct in the death of Mr. Gurley last month, could have received as many as 15 years in prison.  

“Peter Liang’s sentence sends a deeply troubling message that police officers convicted of killing unarmed African Americans will be held to a different, and more lenient, standard of justice than everyone else involved in the criminal justice system,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “This decision compromises the perception of fairness and independence that is vital to improving public confidence in the justice system and to restoring effective community-police relations. Here, the jury did its job and was failed by the prosecutorial and judicial components of the justice system, as was Mr. Gurley’s family.”

In sentencing Mr. Liang, Judge Chun reduced the jury’s conviction from manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. According to news sources, Judge Chun stated, “I find that given the defendant’s background, and given how remorseful he is […] it would not be necessary to incarcerate the defendant to have a just sentence in this case.”

Former officer Liang shot and killed Mr. Gurley in the stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses public housing complex in Brooklyn on November 21, 2014. Despite the absence of any danger or justifiably perceived threat, Mr. Liang and his partner entered Mr. Gurley’s public housing building on a “vertical patrol” with their guns drawn. These circumstances led to Mr. Gurley’s tragic death. 

“A non-prison sentence completely fails to reflect the reality that Mr. Gurley was an innocent man who was killed for standing in a stairwell,” said Janai Nelson, LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel. “This outcome strongly reinforces the need for independent prosecutors to handle police-involved offenses, and for an examination of the deference and privileges afforded to police officers that are not extended to other defendants.”

Mr. Gurley’s death is a reminder of the urgent need for systemic police reform—in New York City and across the nation. Indeed, trial testimony exposed critical gaps in the training, supervision, and accountability of NYPD officers and the need for fundamental reforms in how officers are prepared to interact with the communities they serve.

“This tragedy reinforces the need for adequate training with appropriate supervision and accountability measures,” said Angel Harris, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “Police officers should create positive and collaborative relationships with the community, confront and overcome racial biases and stereotypes, de-escalate potentially confrontational situations, and administer basic urgent care, including CPR, to victims of lethal force.” 

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.