3 Detectives (Kool Killer Kops) Acquitted in Bell Shooting
What is wrong with this image? Doesn’t this look like an episode of The Real World? Nope.
They beat the case and a man is dead, a wife is without a husband and two children have no father. CHEESE!
Three detectives were found not guilty Friday morning on all charges in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a club in Jamaica, Queens.
The crowd gathered at the Queens Criminal Court building reacted to the verdict in the Sean Bell shooting trial.
Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who delivered the verdict, said many of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Mr. Bell’s friends and the two wounded victims, were simply not believable. “The testimony of those witnesses just didn’t make sense,” he said.
His verdict prompted several supporters of Mr. Bell to storm out of the courtroom, and screams could be heard in the hallway moments later. The three detectives were escorted out of a side doorway. Outside, a crowd gathered behind police barricades, occasionally shouting, amid a veritable sea of police officers.
The verdict comes 17 months to the day since the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting of Mr. Bell, 23, and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, hours before Mr. Bell was to be married.
It was delivered in a packed courtroom and was heard by, among others, the slain man’s parents and his fiancée. The seven-week trial, which ended April 14, was heard by Justice Cooperman in State Supreme Court in Queens after the defendants — Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper — waived their right to a jury, a strategy some lawyers called risky at the time. But it clearly paid off with Friday’s verdict.
Before rendering his verdict, Justice Cooperman ran through a narrative of the evening, and concluded “the police response with respect to each defendant was not found to be criminal.”
“The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that each defendant was not justified in shooting, he said, before quickly saying the men were not guilty of all of the eight counts, five felonies and three misdemeanors, against them.
Mr. Bell’s family sat silently as Justice Cooperman spoke from the bench. Behind them, a woman was heard to ask, “Did he just say, ‘Not guilty?’ ”
Roughly 30 court officers stood by, around the courtroom and in the aisles.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, speaking at an event in Brooklyn, declined to comment on the verdict, saying the that officers could still face disciplinary action from the department. He did say, however, that the United States attorney’s office had asked him to delay such disciplinary action until it had decided whether or not to pursue federal charges against the officers.
At the same time, he said the police were prepared should any unrest develop.
“We have prepared, we have done some drills and some practice with appropriate units and personnel if there is any violence, but, again, we don’t anticipate violence,” Mr. Kelly said. “There have been no problems. Obviously there will be some people who are disappointed with the verdict. We understand that.”
Detectives Isnora and Oliver had faced the most charges: first- and second-degree manslaughter, with a possible sentence of 25 years in prison; felony assault, first and second degree; and a misdemeanor, reckless endangerment, with a possible one-year sentence. Detective Oliver also faces a second count of first-degree assault. Detective Cooper was charged only with two counts of reckless endangerment.
During the 26 days of testimony, the prosecution sought to show, with an array of 50 witnesses, that the shooting was the act of a frightened, even enraged group of disorganized police officers who began their shift that night hoping to arrest a prostitute or two and, in suspecting Mr. Bell and his friends of possessing a gun, quickly got in over their heads.
“We ask police to risk their lives to protect ours,” said an assistant district attorney, Charles A. Testagrossa, in his closing arguments. “Not to risk our lives to protect their own.”
The defense, through weeks of often heated cross-examinations, their own witnesses and the words of the detectives themselves, portrayed the shooting as the tragic end to a nonetheless justified confrontation, with Detective Isnora having what it called solid reasons to believe he was the only thing standing between Mr. Bell’s car and a drive-by shooting around the corner.
Several witnesses testified that they heard talk of guns in an argument between Mr. Bell and a stranger, Fabio Coicou, outside Kalua, an argument, the defense claimed, that was fueled by bravado and Mr. Bell’s intoxicated state. Defense lawyers pointed their fingers at Mr. Guzman, who, they said, in shouting for Mr. Bell to drive away when Detective Isnora approached, may have instigated his death.
Detective Isnora told grand jurors last year that he clipped his badge to his collar and drew his gun, shouting, “Police! Don’t move!” as he approached Mr. Bell’s Nissan Altima.
Other witnesses, mostly friends of Mr. Bell, said they never heard shouts of “Police!” Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield testified that they had no idea that Mr. Guzman was a police officer when he walked up with his gun drawn.