The Liang prosecution
The facts behind the complex matter of Akai Gurley's deadly shooting in Brooklyn on 20 November 2014 are, in their bare essence, undisputed: Akai Gurley was fatally shot by rookie police officer Peter Liang in an unlit stairwell in the notoriously dangerous Louis H. Pink public housing project in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The NYPD did not dispute that Liang was overly trigger-happy at the time and took away Liang's badge using the simplified administrative procedures applicable to the probationary officer he was. Though Gurley had more than a few previous encounters with the law (including some convictions for the relatively minor offenses of trespassing and drug possession), at the time he was killed, his behavior was entirely legal, and he evinced no objective indications to suggest otherwise.
Quite unsurprisingly in light of Gurley's African racial background, Al Sharpton insinuated himself into the situation, demanding Liang's prosecution. Sharpton's usual rabble took to the streets.
Liang was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of manslaughter; that conviction was reduced to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, for which Liang received a sentence including no jail time. Both the City of New York and Liang were dissatisfied with that disposition of the case; Liang considered himself innocent of any criminal conduct, and the city objected to the reduction in the charges.
Most court cases are settled by the parties. (In criminal cases, such settlements, if made before trial, are known as "plea bargains.") Such settlements are made with due regard to considerations other than the pure black-letter law relevant to the case and can entail a wide variety of factors.
Liang's prosecution was obviously spurred on by political factors. I cannot help but wonder whether the parties' agreement to settle the case was brought about by the change in the political atmosphere inherent in the election of Donald Trump.
Kenneth H. Ryesky is an attorney admitted to practice before the courts in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as the United States Supreme Court. He has taught business law at Queens College CUNY.