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NYC officers acquitted

NEW YORK — At a heavily guarded courthouse in Queens, a state Supreme Court judge Friday acquitted three police officers in the killing of Sean Bell, who was gunned down in a hail of bullets on the morning of his wedding.

Arthur J. Cooperman found the three detectives not guilty on all felony and misdemeanor charges. Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver had been charged with manslaughter. Marc Cooper had been charged with reckless endangerment.

But the officers could still face charges: The Justice Department announced after the verdict that it will review the case to determine whether to prosecute the officers for violating the victim's civil rights.

Spectators in the packed courtroom gasped as the verdict was read, and Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell, walked out.

As news of the verdict reached scores of protesters outside, there were cries of injustice and a brief scuffle between demonstrators and police on the courthouse steps.

"No, no, no!" cried an elderly woman, tears streaming down her face. Some demonstrators shouted epithets against the police. More than 100 officers had been dispatched to prevent the protest from turning violent.

A woman got out a loudspeaker, chanting: "NYPD, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!"

During an often tense seven-week trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys painted widely divergent pictures of what happened on Nov. 25, 2006.

Through witness testimony and in closing statements, prosecutors suggested that the officers were ill-prepared and acted recklessly during the confrontation.

Bell's friends and family have drawn support from community groups and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Activists contend that the shooting is just the latest example of excessive violence by police. The Bell case has been compared to the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man who was gunned down by police when he reached for his cell phone. A judge acquitted the white officers, prompting widespread protests in the city.

Almost a decade after the Diallo case, however, New York is a different place. The take-no-prisoners attitude that characterized city politics during the Rudolph W. Giuliani administration is largely gone.

Immediately after the shooting, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reached out to activists and the Bell family, describing the police reaction as "excessive" and telling reporters that "it's hard to understand why 50-odd shots should be taken."

"There are no winners in a trial like this," Bloomberg said in a statement. "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."

50 shots

Sean Bell was killed outside a strip club in Queens on Nov. 25, 2006, as he was leaving his bachelor party with two friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. The undercover officers — Gescard Isnora, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver — said they heard a friend of Bell's say, "Yo, go get my gun" — which Bell's friends denied.

Isnora claimed that after he warned the men to halt, Bell pulled away in his car, bumped him and rammed an unmarked police van. Isnora also said Guzman made a move as if reaching for a gun. Benefield and Guzman testified there were no orders from the police.

With tires screeching, glass breaking and bullets flying, the officers said they believed they were under fire. Oliver emptied his semiautomatic pistol, reloaded, and emptied it again for a total of 31 shots. Isnora fired 11 rounds, and Cooper four. No weapon was found in Bell's blood-splattered car.

Associated Press

. Fast facts

NYPD shootings

>>Fast facts

NYPD shootings

50 shots

Sean Bell was killed outside a strip club in Queens on Nov. 25, 2006, as he was leaving his bachelor party with two friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. The undercover officers — Gescard Isnora, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver — said they heard a friend of Bell's say, "Yo, go get my gun" — which Bell's friends denied.

Isnora said that after he warned the men to halt, Bell pulled away in his car, bumped him and rammed an unmarked police van. Isnora also said Guzman made a move as if reaching for a gun. Benefield and Guzman testified there were no orders from the police.

With tires screeching, glass breaking and bullets flying, the officers said they believed they were under fire. Oliver emptied his pistol, reloaded, and emptied it again for a total of 31 shots. Isnora fired 11 rounds and Cooper four. Two other officers fired shots but weren't charged. No weapon was found in Bell's car.

Associated Press

50 shots

Sean Bell was killed outside a strip club in Queens on Nov. 25, 2006, as he was leaving his bachelor party with two friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. The undercover officers — Gescard Isnora, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver — said they heard a friend of Bell's say, "Yo, go get my gun" — which Bell's friends denied.

Isnora claimed that after he warned the men to halt, Bell pulled away in his car, bumped him and rammed an unmarked police van. Isnora also said Guzman made a move as if reaching for a gun. Benefield and Guzman testified there were no orders from the police.

With tires screeching, glass breaking and bullets flying, the officers said they believed they were under fire. Oliver emptied his semiautomatic pistol, reloaded, and emptied it again for a total of 31 shots. Isnora fired 11 rounds, and Cooper four. No weapon was found in Bell's blood-splattered car.

Associated Press

2007: Khiel Coppin, 18, was fatally shot by five officers outside his Brooklyn home. Coppin pulled a hairbrush from under his sweatshirt and pointed it as though it were a gun.

2004: Officer Richard Neri fatally shot Timothy Stansbury, 19, as the unarmed teen walked across a Brooklyn rooftop. A grand jury declined to indict Neri. New York City later paid Stansbury's parents a $2-million settlement.

2003: Officer Bryan Conroy fatally shot Ousmane Zongo, 43, at a warehouse. Conroy was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to five years' probation and community service. Zongo's family later settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $3-million.

2000: Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed security guard, was shot and killed by undercover Detective Anthony Vasquez during a brawl outside a Manhattan bar. A grand jury declined to indict Vasquez. New York City later paid Dorismond's family a $2.25-million settlement.

1999: Amadou Diallo, 22, was fatally shot by four officers as he reached for his wallet in his Bronx apartment doorway. The officers were acquitted of criminal charges. His family later agreed to a $3-million settlement of its lawsuit against New York City.

Compiled by Times news researcher John Martin. Information from the New York Daily News and New York Times was used in this report.

NYC officers acquitted 04/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:55am]

    

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