Outrage over Brooklyn DA’s plea for convicted cop

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson speaks during a press conference, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014 in New York.
Associated Press / Bebeto Matthews, File

A honeymoon with Ken Thompson, Brooklyn’s first Black district attorney seems to be over.

After a year-long romance since his election in 2013, and the fact he overturned more than 19 wrongful convictions by his predecessor DA Joseph “Joe” Hynes, the pioneering prosecutor has lost favor with supporters who voted in large numbers to seat him in the lofty position no other Black had ever occupied.

Some who were previously enamored by his promise to serve the community are now calling him a “traitor” and on the 48th anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the trailblazing Kings County prosecutor will be visited by disgruntled New Yorkers who believe he wronged an entire Black community by recommending leniency and no jail-sentence for a police officer he convinced a jury to convict.

That DA Thompson vigorously pursued a charge of manslaughter in the second degree against NYPD Officer Peter Liang and ultimately proved to a jury that the same individual recklessly endangered the life of 28-year-old Akai Gurley when he pulled out his weapon and squeezed the trigger without regard to the fact Gurley was unarmed could be explained away with justification of a change of heart.

The fact he won a conviction proved to be cause célèbre for a segment of the society. However, last week when the DA sent a memo to the Asian judge recommending no prison sentence for the convicted Asian officer, the same group erupted in protest and is now mobilizing to rally against his plea.

Already determined to express dissent are members of Gurley’s family who disagree with DA Thompson’s plea to Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun to waive any prison sentence and instead apply six months house detention and community service as punishment for manslaughter.

“District Attorney Ken Thompson betrayed the Black community,” Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron said.

“This sends a dangerous precedence.”

“This cop is getting away with murder.”

The ire of the Black community dominated local talk shows with callers verbally assailing the once-beloved lawman.

Assemblyman Barron, one of the organizers of the April 4 demonstration outside the DA’s office, explained: “This officer was indicted and convicted for manslaughter in the second degree. That crime carries up to 15 years in prison. For DA Ken Thompson to only recommend five-years probation, six months house detention and community service for an officer who recklessly took the life of Akai Gurley and negligently refused to help save his life, tells me even with a Black district attorney, Black lives do not matter to this system.”

United in dissent with his wife City Councilwoman Inez Barron, the East New York legislator and Civil Rights activist expressed outrage that such a proposal was presented to a judge.

“A prison sentence is not warranted,” DA Thompson said.

“His incarceration is not necessary to protect the public, and due to the unique circumstances of this case,” should be permitted to wear an electronic bracelet, and obligated to perform 500 hours of community service.

“This is a major injustice…unprecedented,” Assemblyman Barron said, “an incredible wrong to the entire community.”

Convicted last month for firing the deadly shot, Liang, a rookie cop and his partner, Shaun Landau, also a rookie, were allegedly making a routine vertical check throughout the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York on Nov. 20, 2014 when a bullet fired from Liang’s gun ricocheted off a wall and struck Gurley in the chest.

It was one week before Thanksgiving and reports of police shootings of Blacks seemed recurring headline news throughout the country.

Deadly police shootings in Baltimore, Maryland, Ferguson, Missouri, Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois added to statistics reporting that despite the fact Black males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprise two percent of the US population their death rate from police shootings is a whopping 15 percent.

That rate is five times higher than those of whites.

One of the prevailing aspects to the Brooklyn case revealed that NYPD policy forbids officers to discharge their weapons unless they are faced with a deadly threat to their lives.

Prosecutors argued that Liang had acted recklessly by putting his finger on the trigger when he entered the stairwell.

Liang testified that his gun went off accidentally when he was startled by a sound in a dark stairwell.

Another glaring revelation from the prosecution was that after the shooting neither Liang nor his partner attempted to resuscitate the dying tenant who laid bleeding and helpless.

Jurors also heard that neither of the rookie cops bothered to call for emergency medical aid.

That factor may have contributed to the guilty verdict.

Reportedly, immediately following the shooting Liang called representatives of his PBA union and with his partner contrived an explanation for the shooting.

Compelling argument proved that Liang delayed reporting the gunshot and failed to administer first aid. He testified that neither he nor his partner realized a bullet had hit anyone until minutes later, when they found Gurley bleeding on a landing below. Both rookies were terminated and reportedly will not be re-instituted by NYPD.

Liang is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14.

At that time, the judge could adhere to DA Thompson’s request or sentence the former police officer to a maximum of 15 years in prison.

According to DA Thompson, he made the recommendation because Liang had no criminal history and does not pose a threat to public safety.

But an outraged group is convinced that pressure was placed on the prosecutor and perhaps he was forced to make the controversial decision.

“I think there should be a consequence of his action. Someone was killed,” an irate New Yorker said.

“Six months’ house arrest is ridiculous. It’s insulting.”

“Thompson is playing two sides for the middle.”

“Who got to Brooklyn, District Attorney Ken Thompson?

“How can he legally justify not recommending one day in prison for NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who recklessly took the life of an innocent Akai Gurley, who was unarmed and not committing any crime?” Assemblyman Barron posted on his Facebook page.

Those and other stirring comments have been surfacing on social media outlets.

Some claim the Asian community forced the plea.

Led by organizations representing the Asian community, several disgruntled Asians railed against the February verdict during demonstrations saying Liang was convicted because he was Asian.

They claimed the guilty verdict was a result of a scheme to scapegoat Liang due to his race.

There are also those who claim Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association might have also influenced DA Thompson’s appeal.

“District Attorney Thompson was elected on the promise that he would not allow officers to act as if they are above the law,” the Gurley family said in a statement. “His sentencing recommendation is a betrayal of that promise.”

Kenneth Palmer, Gurley’s stepfather, said he felt awful about the recommendation.

“What is justice? That’s my question right now.”

“If it was your son, what would you think?” he added.

DA Thompson said that while Liang was convicted because his actions led to the death of an innocent man, “there is no evidence, however, that he intended to kill or injure Mr. Gurley.”

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee and there is more than a coincidence that on that anniversary, the first Black DA in the borough will be publicly rebuked by some of his staunchest supporters.

One of the first public appearances he made after accepting the oath of office found him delivering the keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Enthusiastically greeted with a standing ovation, he offered a glowing tribute to the Civil Rights martyr and promised that he would reform the criminal justice system during his tenure. Since that time he has successfully recouped large caches of illegal guns using an amnesty-free gun buy-back offer.

A former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, Thompson was a member of the team that successfully prosecuted former NYPD Officer Justin Volpe in the brutal 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in the 70th Precinct stationhouse in Brooklyn.

He delivered opening statements at that federal civil rights trial.

Officer Volpe pled guilty in the middle of the trial and is now serving 30 years in federal prison.

Working from an office “committed to public safety, fairness and equality” since his election, DA Thompson has been hailed by Black activists and progressives for releasing several individuals from prison who were wrongly accused and incarcerated.

That he now wants to spare a convicted felon from punishment seem contrary to his promise and provide fodder for criticism and protest.

The rally will be held at 350 Jay St.

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