A judge this week threw out the last of two lawsuits brought against the City of New York and a former police officer, who was convicted of manslaughter in February for fatally shooting an unarmed man in a Brooklyn housing project almost two years ago.
News of the civil suit’s dismissal comes as a close supporter of Peter Liang told NBC News Wednesday that the former New York Police Department (NYPD) cop is not expected to appeal his conviction. A judge reduced Liang’s charges in April to criminally negligent homicide with no jail time.
Melissa Butler, a friend who was with 28-year-old Akai Gurley the night he died, had sued the city, former NYPD officers Liang and his partner Shaun Landau, and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) over the incident, which took place on Nov. 20, 2014.
Liang was patrolling a darkened stairwell at the Louis H. Pink Houses, with his gun drawn, when he accidentally fired a shot. The bullet bounced off a wall and struck Gurley, who had entered with Butler from a floor below.
Following a 911 operator’s instructions, Butler performed CPR on Gurley, who collapsed in the stairwell and later died. At his trial, Liang testified he didn’t administer the life-saving procedure because he felt he wasn’t adequately trained in it. He also said he was given answers to his written CPR exam while at the police academy.
This summer, Kimberly Ballinger, Gurley’s domestic partner and mother of his daughter, settled a wrongful death lawsuit she had filed, receiving more than $4 million. Liang will pay $25,000.
Butler’s suit sought money and damages for the emotional distress she said she suffered stemming from the night of the shooting, according to the New York Daily News, which first reported the dismissal on Wednesday.
A city Law Department spokesman told NBC News that “the judge ruled from the bench that Ms. Butler did not present a legally viable claim against the city.”
Butler’s attorney, Roger Wareham, spoke out about Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dawn Jimenez-Salta’s decision, telling the Daily News that Butler, who testified at Liang’s trial, was “still traumatized” by the incident.
“We are disappointed that the person who was responsible for a successful prosecution suffered tremendous trauma, PTSD, (and needs) therapy is not able to recover because of a law in New York State that precludes recovery from emotional injuries unless you’re a direct family member,” Wareham said, according to the Daily News.
Liang’s defense attorney, Robert Brown, welcomed the news, adding that he had made a motion, joined by the city and NYCHA, to dismiss Butler’s suit a number of months back.
“This is one more step toward putting this whole terrible incident behind him,” Brown told NBC News.
Liang, meanwhile, has been serving 800 hours of community service since Justice Danny Chun sentenced him in April. Chun knocked down the jury’s manslaughter conviction to criminally negligent homicide and spared Liang jail time.
Following in part a recommendation made by then Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, who suddenly died of cancer last month, Chun also sentenced Liang to five years of probation.
Karlin Chan, a community organizer who was with Liang throughout much of the trial, said the former cop was expected to wrap up his community service by the end of November.
Chan, who said he speaks regularly with Liang, added that Liang wasn’t planning to appeal his conviction and said he is “taking responsibility for it.” Liang was fired from the NYPD after the guilty verdict.
“He’s a very private person and he just wants to move on,” Chan said. “It's time to heal.”
The attorney who was handling a possible appeal, Paul Shechtman, could not immediately be reached for comment.