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NYC police acquitted in killing of groom
99 commentsApr. 25, 2008 10:13 AM
Associated Press
NEW YORK - Three detectives were acquitted of all charges Friday in the 50-shot killing of an unarmed groom-to-be on his wedding day, a case that put the NYPD at the center of another dispute involving allegations of excessive firepower.

Scores of police officers surrounded the courthouse to guard against potential chaos, and as news of the verdict spread, many in the crowd began weeping. Others were enraged, swearing and screaming “Murderers! Murderers!” or “KKK!”

Inside the courtroom, spectators gasped. Sean Bell's fiancee immediately walked out of the room; his mother cried.


Bell, a 23-year-old black man, was killed in a hail of gunfire outside a seedy strip club in Queens on Nov. 25, 2006 as he was leaving his bachelor party with two friends. The case ignited the emotions of people across the city and led to widespread protests among those who felt the officers used unnecessary force.

Officers Michael Oliver, 36, and Gescard Isnora, 29, stood trial for manslaughter while Officer Marc Cooper, 40, was charged with reckless endangerment. Two other shooters weren't charged. Oliver squeezed off 31 shots; Isnora fired 11 rounds; and Cooper shot four times.

The case brought back painful memories of other NYPD shootings, such as the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo — an African immigrant who was gunned down in a hail of 41 bullets by police officers who mistook his wallet for a gun. The acquittal of the officers in that case created a storm of protest, with hundreds arrested after taking to the streets in demonstration.

Though emotions ran high, there were no immediate problems outside the courthouse Friday, where many wore buttons with Bell's picture or held signs saying “Justice for Sean Bell.” Some people approached police after the verdict was read, but they were held back and the jostling died down quickly.

William Hardgraves, 48, an electrician from Harlem, brought his 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter to hear the verdict. “It could have been my son, it could have been my daughter” shot like Bell that night, he said.

He didn't know what result he had expected.

“I hoped it would be different this time. They shot him 50 times,” Hardgraves said. “But of course, it wasn't.”

Justice Arthur Cooperman delivered the verdict in a packed Queens courtroom. The officers, complaining that pretrial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers, opted to have the judge decide the case rather than a jury.

Cooperman indicated that the police officers' version of events was more credible than the victims' version. “The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified” in firing, he said.

The nearly two-month trial was marked by deeply divergent accounts of the night.

The defense painted the victims as drunken thugs who the officers believed were armed and dangerous. Prosecutors sought to convince the judge that the victims had been minding their own business, and that the officers were inept, trigger-happy aggressors.

None of the officers took the witness stand in his own defense.

Instead, Cooperman heard transcripts of the officers testifying before a grand jury, saying they believed they had good reason to use deadly force. The judge also heard testimony from Bell's two injured companions, who insisted the maelstrom erupted without warning.

Both sides were consistent on one point: The utter chaos surrounding the last moments of Bell's life.

“It happened so quick,” Isnora said in his grand jury testimony. “It was like the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

Bell's companions — Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman — also offered dramatic testimony about the episode. Benefield and Guzman were both wounded; Guzman still has four bullets lodged in his body. Referring to Isnora, Guzman said, “This dude is shooting like he's crazy, like he's out of his mind.”

The victims and shooters were set on a fateful collision course by a pair of innocuous decisions: Bell's to have a last-minute bachelor party at Kalua Cabaret, and the undercover detectives' to investigate reports of prostitution at the club.

As the club closed around 4 a.m., Sanchez and Isnora claimed they overheard Bell and his friends first flirt with women, then taunt a stranger who responded by putting his right hand in his pocket as if he had a gun. Guzman, they testified, said, “Yo, go get my gun” — something Bell's friends denied.

Isnora said he decided to arm himself, call for backup — “It's getting hot,” he told his supervisor — and tail Bell, Guzman and Benefield as they went around the corner and got into Bell's car. He claimed that after warning the men to halt, Bell pulled away, bumped him and rammed an unmarked police van that converged on the scene with Oliver at the wheel.

The detective also alleged that Guzman made a sudden move as if he were reaching for a gun.

“I yelled Gun!' and fired,” he said. “In my mind, I knew (Guzman) had a gun.”

Benefield and Guzman testified that there were no orders. Instead, Guzman said, Isnora “appeared out of nowhere” with a gun drawn and shot him in the shoulder — the first of 16 shots to enter his body. “That's all there was — gunfire,” he said. “There wasn't nothing else.” With tires screeching, glass breaking and bullets flying, the officers claimed that they believed they were the ones under fire. Oliver responded by emptying his semiautomatic pistol, reloading, and emptying it again, as the supervisor sought cover.

The truth emerged when the smoke cleared: There was no weapon inside Bell's blood-splattered car.
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Lotus Talk consists of an intelligent group of people, so I decided to start the discussion here. So what do you guys think? And please don't turn this into a race thing, as 2 of the 3 officers were black. Personally, it seems that bad judgement was at an all time high that night, as well as in the courtroom this morning. I try to put myself in the shoes of everyone involved but I just can't justify 50 shots fired, with no one shooting back. In my opinion, this could very well happen to me, or anyone for that matter. If I'm out with some friends and one of us gets into a confrontation with a guy, who then acts like he has a gun (well, for one, there would be no threatening to "go get my gun", we would handle it then and there.) but let's say one of my friends did say "go get my gun", knowing that we don't have one, but maybe trying to scare the other guy. So as we try to leave, we suddenly see three armed men approach my vehicle, barking orders at me... I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna assume it's the guy we argued with earlier and his buddies, trying to kill me. So I'm doing the same thing Sean Bell did... attempt to get the F**k outta dodge. It obviously didn't work out for him, and I'm sure I'd meet the same fate, but these officers were in PLAIN CLOTHES, and the police van was UNMARKED. I don't see how they could've known these guys were cops. And for the one cop to yell "Gun" when there wasn't one, is just insane. I know cops have to constantly go through alot of bullsh!t, and are forced to make split second decisions, and I respect the hell out of them for that. But 50 shots to some unarmed people in a car?!!! WTF is going on?! This whole situation is just ridiculous. And yes, sh!t like this happens way to often. But I really thought they wouldn't get away with this one, though.
 

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My first thought is that the title is misleading: "NYC police acquitted in killing of groom"

Gave me an intial image of the groom being shot 50 times during the wedding - or wedding rehersal (Kill Bill reference) and not some guy shot after a bachelor party.
 

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He reloaded?
:no:

Trial by judge, people don't prove case, afraid of what a jury would do? C'mon....
Wouldn't be surprised if he washes up on the Jersey side of the river in a couple of weeks.
 

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Nobody knows what happened that night, including those involved... so how would we ever be able to pass judgment?
Is it KingOfJericho or King Solomon?
;)
 

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Discussion Starter #7
My first thought is that the title is misleading: "NYC police acquitted in killing of groom"

Gave me an intial image of the groom being shot 50 times during the wedding - or wedding rehersal (Kill Bill reference) and not some guy shot after a bachelor party.
Good point... I just copy/pasted the title and the article from the news article I read.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Im not aware of comparable incidents to relate to your last comment of Sh!t like that happens way too often.
I was just referencing general incidents where an officer shoots an unarmed person, and gets away 'scott free'. There was one here in Mesa a while back where (and it's been a few years, so excuse me for not remembering all the details) but a (white) woman who was suspected of forging doctors' signatures for perscriptions was at a Walgreen's drive thru. When a (black) officer arrived, she tried to drive off and was gunned down. He said she tried to run him over, but as I recall, she was shot from the side. But he was acquitted of all charges. Now, I definitely feel that IF a police officer (or anyone for that matter) feels that his life, or the life of another person is TRULY in danger, than by all means use deadly force to protect yourself. But it seems to be an overused excuse these days.
 

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Bullettime, did you purposely leave out this part

Mr. Bell drove the car half a block, turned a corner and struck a black unmarked police minivan bearing several plainclothes officers.

Mr. Bell’s car then backed up onto a sidewalk, hit a storefront’s rolled-down protective gate and nearly struck an undercover officer before shooting forward and slamming into the police van again, the police said.

None of us can or will know what happened, but the article you listed seems to lean in one direction.
 

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Bullettime, did you purposely leave out this part

Mr. Bell drove the car half a block, turned a corner and struck a black unmarked police minivan bearing several plainclothes officers.

Mr. Bell’s car then backed up onto a sidewalk, hit a storefront’s rolled-down protective gate and nearly struck an undercover officer before shooting forward and slamming into the police van again, the police said.

None of us can or will know what happened, but the article you listed seems to lean in one direction.
+infinity
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Bullettime, did you purposely leave out this part

Mr. Bell drove the car half a block, turned a corner and struck a black unmarked police minivan bearing several plainclothes officers.

Mr. Bell’s car then backed up onto a sidewalk, hit a storefront’s rolled-down protective gate and nearly struck an undercover officer before shooting forward and slamming into the police van again, the police said.

None of us can or will know what happened, but the article you listed seems to lean in one direction.
No, actually I didn't leave out anything. As stated, I copy pasted the complete article from azcentral.com, an Arizona news website. And if they left that out... well it really makes no difference as the fact remains that the vehicle was unmarked, and the police officers were in plain clothes. Hell, I would drive like a son of a bitch too, if I saw some guys in regular clothes pull guns on me and start yelling. I wouldn't even stop to hear whether they were yelling "Freeze, a$$hole", or "give me your car, a$$hole". I would feel my life was in danger, and do what I can to get out of there. However, if I was approached by officers in uniform, and saw flashing police lights, I would comply 100%. And, admit it or not, I think alot of people would do the same in that situation.
 

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One simple logical test can generally answer any questions as to the propriety of law enforcement action:

If my friends and I did what the officers did, what would happen to us?

I think that if someone fired a gun at me, I returned fire, hit the target, reloaded, and then fired some more..... I'd be in prison.

Likewise, without ironclad evidence that the person I shot appeared to have a weapon, I'd be sunk. Even if the guy was an *******. Even if I only fired 1 shot.

....if my friends and I had merely beat up the victim here, we'd be in jail. Since the victim never committed any crime.

...unless you count fleeing from some apparently random guys that were pointing guns at them.
 

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i dont know if the shooting was unjustified, but 50 rounds sure seems excessive.....
If someone aims their car at me and floors it, I'll put 50 rounds into them also.
 

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No, actually I didn't leave out anything. As stated, I copy pasted the complete article from azcentral.com, an Arizona news website. And if they left that out... well it really makes no difference as the fact remains that the vehicle was unmarked, and the police officers were in plain clothes. Hell, I would drive like a son of a bitch too, if I saw some guys in regular clothes pull guns on me and start yelling. I wouldn't even stop to hear whether they were yelling "Freeze, a$$hole", or "give me your car, a$$hole". I would feel my life was in danger, and do what I can to get out of there. However, if I was approached by officers in uniform, and saw flashing police lights, I would comply 100%. And, admit it or not, I think alot of people would do the same in that situation.
This was clearly an unfortunate tragedy. The three that got shot may well have been reacting as you indicated you would in that situation. Most of us probably would, given what we have just read about it (though there may be much more to it than the news bite indicates).

On the other side of the confrontation, the police were likely feeling the same threat. In that area of town, it would not be unlikely for armed bad guys to be the other guys. The cops have a very dangerous job and all of them want to go home to their families every day. In those situations, people refer to split second decisions, but I don't think most people really comprehend what that means in this context.

I recently went through some training that involved those "split-second" shoot or don't shoot situations. I can tell you when the time came, it was all instantaneous reaction. I don't recall any "decision making". When the other guy acted in what I perceived as a threatening manner, there was no conscious thought on my part, I fired as quick as I could. It was just a reaction. The judgement and decision was all done up front while assessing the situation.

50 shots does sound excessive, but, apparently, some of the police thought some of the gunshots were coming from the other guys, which was not unexpected. If that is the case, you shoot until it is clear that there are no shots coming from the other side. I expect this all played out in a matter of seconds with a lot of commotion and noise.
 

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No, actually I didn't leave out anything. As stated, I copy pasted the complete article from azcentral.com, an Arizona news website. And if they left that out... well it really makes no difference as the fact remains that the vehicle was unmarked, and the police officers were in plain clothes. Hell, I would drive like a son of a bitch too, if I saw some guys in regular clothes pull guns on me and start yelling. .
Now where did you get this additional information that contridicts both sides, neither side said the shooting started till after the crash(after diriving like a son of a bitch). Do you have some sort of agenda here? I truly don't know who to believe, but it seems you do.
 

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Commentary: Testimony of Sean Bell's friends sank case

From CNN:
Commentary: Testimony of Sean Bell's friends sank case - CNN.com

By Sunny Hostin
CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) -- None of us was there that fateful night when a young man lost his life on his wedding day, the night three New York Police Department detectives lost their careers and lives as they knew them.

But the people who were there told their version of events. And the judge, also sitting as the jury, decided whom to believe. Isn't that the very crux of our judicial system?

I predict that the Sean Bell case will be examined in law school classrooms across the country. It has given us a bird's-eye view into a courtroom practice that many had never heard of: the bench trial.

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution ensures that we have the right to a trial by a jury of our peers in a serious criminal case. But as with all rights, you can voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waive that right and instead have your case tried by a judge.

That is what Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper and Gescard Isnora did. Many thought it was a gamble. It was a gamble that paid off.

Justice Arthur Cooperman, a 74-year-old bench veteran, acquitted all three detectives. The public is outraged. But it shouldn't be. Cooperman did what we ask every juror to do: consider and determine the facts of the case -- that is, what he believed to be the true facts -- from among all of the evidence in the case.

In a criminal trial, jurors are instructed that a defendant does not have to prove his innocence. It is the prosecution that has a very high burden, to prove the charged conduct beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors are also given specific instructions on how to weigh evidence in every single criminal case. In fact, I've heard it so many times that I can recite it from memory:

As judges of the facts, you alone determine the truthfulness and accuracy of the testimony of each witness. You must decide whether a witness told the truth and was accurate, or instead, testified falsely or was mistaken. You must also decide what importance to give to the testimony you accept as truthful and accurate. It is the quality of the testimony that is controlling, not the number of witnesses who testify. If you find that any witness has intentionally testified falsely as to any material fact, you may disregard that witness's entire testimony.

It is so very clear that Cooperman did exactly what any juror was supposed to do.

He listened to the evidence. He learned that Club Kalua, the strip club that Sean Bell and his companions were at that night, had been at the center of neighborhood complaints, drug activity and prostitution arrests, which is why undercover officers were there in the first place.

He heard the consistent grand jury testimony of all three defendant police officers. He heard the testimony of Detective Hispolito Sanchez, an undercover officer inside the club who heard Bell's companion, Joseph Guzman say "Yo, get my gun" and heard Sean Bell threaten to beat up a man near an SUV.

And he heard the testimony of Guzman, who denied, contrary to the testimony of other witnesses, that he uttered the words "Go get my gun." Cooperman also learned that Guzman had spent five years in prison for robbery and drug convictions for selling crack and was suing for $50 million in civil court.

It was clear that Guzman was the linchpin of this case. If you believe him, that the officers shot at Bell and his friends for no reason at all, the officers are guilty. If you don't believe him, then his statement -- "Go get my gun" -- sent the night into mayhem, causing the officers to believe that the men were armed and justifying the officers' actions that night.

Guzman was combative on the stand, irreverent. During his cross-examination by attorney Anthony L. Ricco, who represented Isnora, he shot back: "You know what needs to happen? This needs to happen to your family."

In explaining his decision, Cooperman said prosecutors had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt because of a combination of factors. Chief among them: inconsistent statements by prosecution witnesses, their demeanor on the stand, their interest in the outcome of the case and their motives to lie.

"These factors," the judge said, "had the effect of eviscerating the credibility of those prosecution witnesses."

Translation: The government could not prove its case against the officers because the judge didn't believe Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman. They are suing the police department for $50 million. They blew the case for the prosecution.

This is not over. There is a civil case pending, and the standard of proof is much lower. The feds are now looking at it. And we will be watching and deciding what and whom to believe.
 

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none of us were there that night so we will never know what happen, but cops are gods most of them get off on shooting crimes especially in NYC. the nypd is all about politics and has connections all over i knew from day 1 these cops were getting off. 50 shots is extremely excessive and they should have not been dismissed on all of the charges
 

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none of us were there that night so we will never know what happen, but cops are gods most of them get off on shooting crimes especially in NYC. the nypd is all about politics and has connections all over i knew from day 1 these cops were getting off. 50 shots is extremely excessive and they should have not been dismissed on all of the charges
So, your point that if it were justified and he fired once and killed him it's okay. BUt, if it's justified and he fired too many times he should be found guilty?
 
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