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April 25, 2008

Three NYC Police Officers Acquitted In Death Of Sean Bell

by Doug Mataconis

Back in November 2006, a man named Sean Bell was killed on the evening of his bachelor party in some kind of confrontation with the NYPD:

 Officers shot three men who had just left a bachelor party held at a Queens strip club early Saturday morning, leaving the groom dead on the day of his wedding, said police, witnesses and relatives.

The shooting happened just after 4 a.m. around 143-39 95th Ave. in the Jamaica section of Queens, near Club Kalua, said Officer Kathleen Price, a police department spokeswoman.

It was not immediately clear what provoked the shooting, but the incident drew outcry from community leaders and family who demanded answers about how it happened. Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, declined comment Saturday morning.

(…)

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.

In response, five police officers fired at least 50 rounds at the men’s car, a silver Nissan Altima; the bullets ripped into other cars and slammed through an apartment window near the shooting scene on Liverpool Street near 94th Avenue.

Today, the three detectives who had been indicted in his death were acquitted of the charges against them:

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.

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. “At times, 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 — Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper — 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 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.

Without having heard having heard the evidence, it’s impossible to say whether the judge was right in his interpretation of the credibility of the witnesses, but I find it interesting that the Times would say that the detectives waiver of a jury would have been considered risky. Under the circumstances, I think it’s clear that they’d have less risk of a guilty verdict from a judge than from a jury.


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1 Comment

  1. I’m glad this trial was held. It was a high profile violent incident that needed to be looked into. And I’m glad all the police were acquitted. Bell and one of his buddies, threatened to kill the officers, got into Bell’s car, and then tried to run down people. It is not racist to kill dangerous criminals – even black ones.

    Comment by Lyn — April 25, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

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