By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former New York City police officer convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black man in an unlit stairwell is due to be sentenced on Tuesday, after prosecutors recommended no prison time.
Peter Liang, a rookie who lost his badge after his February conviction, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Liang was patrolling the darkened stairs inside a public housing building in Brooklyn on Nov. 20, 2014, when he fired a single shot. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the chest as he walked one floor below.
The shooting fueled nationwide protests over law enforcement's use of excessive force on minorities. But the Brooklyn case differed from many of the other high-profile incidents that helped intensify the Black Lives Matter movement. The officer, a Chinese-American, was not accused of deliberately killing Gurley.
Meanwhile, Chinese-American activists organized their own protests, claiming Liang was serving as a scapegoat for police misconduct.
Liang tearfully testified at trial that he did not realize the bullet had hit anyone until he went downstairs and saw Gurley's girlfriend desperately trying to revive him. The officer claimed a noise had startled him, causing his finger to slip onto the trigger and fire.
But prosecutors said he acted recklessly in drawing his weapon and discharging a round.
Gurley's family have criticized Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson for recommending no prison time. State Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun will impose the sentence.
The sentencing comes days after Chun rejected Liang's request for a new trial. Liang's lawyers argued that a juror acknowledged he had failed to disclose during jury selection that his father had been convicted of manslaughter.
The judge said the defense had not shown that the juror's omission violated Liang's rights.
(Editing by Frank McGurty, Bernard Orr)