About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

March 27, 2016

"What messy justice looks like: After Peter Liang's killing of Akai Gurley, DA Ken Thompson does the right thing twice"

Harry Siegel's excellent column in the Daily News:
The progressive prosecutor — elected on a promise to salvage Brooklyn justice from the oxymoronic state his predecessor had reduced it to — did the right thing first in holding the cop to account and convicting him before a jury of his New York City peers, and again in recommending that he be let off the hook of incarceration.

The whole system failed here: in the screening that let Liang join the force in the first place and the Academy “training” that left him certified in but never actually taught CPR; in the lousy NYCHA buildings where stairwells are blacked out and elevators broken down, where the good people who live there sometimes need police to help keep common areas safe.

By recommending no jail time for Liang, Thompson made plain that he wouldn’t make one cop the scapegoat for all that, and for a national conversation about killer cops, too. But by prosecuting him, Thompson made plain that what Liang did, letting off a fatal shot in the dark, was a crime, cop or no cop.
“A lot of people have trouble getting their heads around this case, because they think it’s like other police shootings and it’s not,” explains John Jay Professor Eugene O’Donnell, a former cop and prosecutor in New York City. “The others are shoot-don’t shoot events, about decisions cops make in one second.

“That is the obstacle to charging the police, those ‘fear of my life’ shootings. The law of self-defense is extremely favorable to the police — to everybody, actually, as we found with George Zimmerman — but especially the police."

None of that, he notes, applies to Liang, and — with no legal leg to stand on — he became the rare cop to ask for a jury rather than a bench trial, perhaps in the hopes that at least one juror would overlook the law and cut him a break.

One bitter irony: Thompson’s choice not to punish Liang for going to trial highlighted how often other defendants are effectively punished for pleading their innocence. A pound of flesh frequently gets taken in sentencing after a guilty verdict, in part to account for the turmoil a trial puts a victim’s family through but mostly to “pay” for the resources trials demand of prosecutors and police.

Which is outright un-American, but also at the heart of our justice system as it normally functions. ...

Bottom line: In a complex case fraught with racial politics, Thompson did his job as a minister of justice, holding a cop to account for the fatal consequences of his actions, and trying to find the right measure of justice. ...

And that’s how our justice system should work, for everyone.


David Woycechowsky said...

second time he has been in the news this year on a manslaughter related story:


Side comment: I would have like to have seen Liang spend some time in prison, and I don't think a year would have been too much. But, I can see why some reasonable people want no prison time.

bacchys said...

I'd have to know if this DA has done the same with other accidental shootings before deciding if this "no prison time" recommendation is reasonable.

Radley Balko found another Virginia case where a young man was prosecuted for accidentally shooting and killing his friend about a month before an officer named Seth Bullock "accidentally" shot and killed Sal Culosi way back in '02. Bullock wasn't prosecuted.

kayla said...

"Bottom line: In a complex case fraught with racial politics, Thompson did his job as a minister of justice, holding a cop to account for the fatal consequences of his actions, and trying to find the right measure of justice. ... "

The actions of the Judge in this case exemplifies the change that needs to happen in our criminal justice system . Unfortunately, Justice has been given as merit to those who "deserve" it or can afford it . ( celebs, elite , athletes etc...) but this case brought justice to the forefront and distributed it based on the facts presented in the case and not by the person who was on trial . Officer Liang received justice the way he should have gotten it . Not as a scapegoat that makes up for the poor decisions of officers in the past but as an officer who did not follow guidelines in a crisis and killed a civilian . As a minister of justice , you must select the best option for those on trial based on the evidence and facts.