New York City Police Officer Peter Liang could be facing jail time after a jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of manslaughter on Thursday. Liang was convicted of killing an unarmed man while on duty in November 2014. The case has captured the attention of both the Black Lives Matter movement and the general public. So now that the jury has reached their decision, does this mean Peter Liang will serve jail time?
According to police documents, Liang and his partner were patrolling a public housing facility when he fired his weapon into a stairwell; The bullet ricocheted and hit Akai Gurley, a black, 28-year-old father of two who was unarmed at the time and who was walking down the stairs with his girlfriend. The bullet pierced Gurley's heart and he later died from his injuries.
Court reports have noted that Liang could face up to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter charge, of which he was convicted on Thursday. Liang was also charged with official misconduct for failing to offer aid or CPR to Gurley as he lay injured on the ground. His defense team argued that Liang was in shock from having shot someone and wasn't in a state where he was able to behave rationally.
"I was panicking so much, I couldn't process it in my head." Liang told the jury, according to a report by The Guardian. (Liang's defense team also argued that Liang, a rookie police officer and that his training was insufficient to prepare him for an accidental shooting.) Liang claimed in court proceedings that he hadn't felt properly equipped to offer CPR to Gurley and thus left Gurley's girlfriend, Melissa Butler, to do the job while a neighbor shouted instructions from an EMS dispatch over the phone.
The prosecution did not agree. The government provided multiple instructors from the Police Academy to testify about the sort of training recruits receive. Prosecutors argued that Liang was careless and that he handled his weapon recklessly. They also argued that his main concern appeared to be his own job, rather than Gurley's life.
The guilty verdict sends a powerful message to law enforcement after several cases of police shootings of unarmed men in the past year went unprosecuted. While the prosecution and defense in Liang's case agreed that in this particular shooting was accidental, it was just one of many high profile cases that shed light on how police officers use extreme force.
The jury's decision comes just as a Federal Grand Jury is set to begin hearing evidence in the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island man who died after allegedly being put in a choke hold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. The incident was caught in a now infamous video, yet the officer in question was put on desk duty rather than forced to face official charges.
That case seems to be a far cry from the situation of Peter Liang. Visibly shaken and weeping on the stand, Liang is in danger of becoming the poster boy for the entire movement — a fact that could still be up for debate, given that Liang himself is non-white. Sentencing for Liang will happen on April 14, at which point he could be heading to prison for up to 15 years.