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Acquittals in groom's shooting spark outrage
Acquittals in groom's shooting spark outrage
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Nicole Paultre Bell bolted from the courtroom Friday as a judge acquitted three New York City detectives of all charges in the
shooting death of her fiance. "I've got to get out of here," Paultre Bell said.
Justice Arthur Cooperman was announcing the verdict clearing Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora of manslaughter, assault and reckless
endangerment in the death of Sean Bell. Detective Marc Cooper was cleared of reckless endangerment.
"What we saw in court today was not a miscarriage of justice," the Rev. Al Sharpton said on his radio program. "Justice didn't miscarry," he said.
"This was an abortion of justice. Justice was aborted." Sharpton, who has been advising Bell's family, had called for calm Wednesday.
Bell, 23, died in November 2006 in a 50-bullet barrage -- 31 fired by Oliver -- hours before he was to be married. Two of his companions were
wounded in the gunfire outside a Queens nightclub.
Alexander Jason, an expert witness for the defense, produced a video demonstrating how quickly Oliver could have fired off 31 rounds, including
a pause to reload. The three officers made brief statements more than four hours after the verdict. "I want to say sorry to Bell family for the tragedy,"
Cooper said. Isnora thanked the judge "for his fair and accurate decision today." Oliver praised Cooperman "for a fair and just decision."
That's not how one community leader viewed it. "This case was not about justice," declared Leroy Gadsden, chair of the police/community relations
committee of the Jamaica Branch NAACP. "This case was about the police having a right to be above the law. If the law was in effect here, if the judge
had followed the law truly, these officers would have been found guilty. "This court, unfortunately, is bankrupt when it comes to justice for people of color."
Patrick Lynch, president of the New York Police Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said "there's no winners; there's no losers" in the case.
"We still have a death that occurred. We still have police officers that have to live with the fact that there was a death involved in their case," Lynch said.
But, he added, the verdict assured police officers that they will be treated fairly in New York's courts.
Many people outside the courthouse saw it differently. "You can't be proud of wearing that hat. You can't be proud of wearing that badge," a black woman
shouted at a black police officer. "You must stop working for the masters! Stand down! Stop working for the masters!" "Fifty shots is murder. I don't care
what you say. That's what it is," another woman said. Despite the evident anger and a brief fistfight, the crowd remained generally orderly.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement saying, "An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother
and a father lost their son. No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer." However, he said, the legal system must
"America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority." Bloomberg
also said he had spoken briefly with Paultre Bell on Wednesday and agreed with her on the need to ensure that similar incidents would not occur in the future.
Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown echoed the mayor's sentiments. "I accept his verdict, and I urge certainly that all fair-minded people in this
city to the same," Brown said. "The bottom line is that all of us working together -- the law enforcement community, our elected public officials, our individuals
who are involved -- have got to make certain that that which occurred ... is never again repeated."
In announcing the verdict, Cooperman said he found problems with the prosecution's case. He said some prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves, and he
cited prior convictions and incarcerations of witnesses. "At times, the testimony just didn't make sense," Cooperman said, according to a transcript released by
his office. He also cited the demeanor of some witnesses on the stand.
Bell was killed just before dawn on his wedding day, November 25, 2006. He and several friends were winding up an all-night bachelor party at the Kalua Club
in Queens, a strip club that was under investigation by a NYPD undercover unit looking into complaints of guns, drugs and prostitution. Undercover detectives
were inside the club, and plainclothes officers were stationed outside.
Witnesses said that about 4 a.m., closing time, as Bell and his friends left the club, an argument broke out. Believing that one of Bell's friends, Joseph Guzman,
was going to get a gun from Bell's car, one of the undercover detectives followed the men and called for backup. What happened next was at the heart of the trial,
prosecuted by the assistant district attorney in Queens.
Bell, Guzman and Trent Benefield got into the car, with Bell at the wheel. The detectives drew their weapons, said Guzman and Benefield, who testified that they
never heard the plainclothes detectives identify themselves as police. Bell was in a panic to get away from the armed men, his friends testified.
But the detectives thought Bell was trying to run down one of them, believed that their lives were in danger and started shooting, according to their lawyers.
A total of 50 bullets were fired by five NYPD officers. Only three were charged with crimes. No gun was found near Bell or his friends.
Paultre Bell, Guzman and Benefield have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court that has been stayed pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
Federal prosecutors will conduct a review to determine whether there were any civil rights violations, Brown said.