HEAVIEST RAPS FOR 2 AT BELL ARRAIGNMENT
By IKIMULISA LIVINGSTON, LEONARD GREENE and ANDY GELLER
The New York Post
Related Story: Point-Blank Perspective, OP-Ed NYT 3.20.07
Two cops who fired 42 of 50 shots at Sean Bell could face more than half a century behind bars after their indictment yesterday in the death of the unarmed groom.
A third could escape prison entirely.
New York City undercover detective Gerscard Isnora, left, and detective Marc Cooper, fourth from left with blue shirt exit Queens criminal court, Monday, March 19, 2007, in New York. Cooper and Isnora along with det. Michael Oliver were indicted Monday in the shooting death of Sean Bell outside a Queens niteclub in Nov. 2006. (AP photo Louis Lanzano)
NYPD Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, who got off 11 bullets, pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges, including first- and second-degree manslaughter. The harsher charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years behind bars.
The indicted cops came face to face with Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were wounded in the Nov. 25 shooting in Queens.
The third detective, Marc Cooper, charged with reckless endangerment, also pleaded not guilty at the arraignment at Queens Supreme Court.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said the charges weren't enough.
"There clearly was evidence to reach the charges of murder and attempted murder," he said.
Sharpton, intending to say all five cops involved in the shooting should have been charged, said instead, "Clearly, all five officers should have been shot."
He corrected himself, repeating "charged" several times.
Bell, 23, was killed and pals Benefield, 23, and Guzman, 31, were wounded in a barrage of police bullets as they sat in a car after leaving Kalua Cabaret, a strip club.
The three had been attending a bachelor party for Bell, who was to be married later that day.
An eight-count indictment, handed down Friday and unsealed yesterday also accused Oliver, 35, of two counts of first-degree assault and two count of reckless endangerment.
If convicted of all charges, he faces 15 to 75 years behind bars, said a spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney's Office.
Charges against Isnora, 28, include first- and second-degree assault as well as reckless endangerment. He faces 12 to 57 years in prison if convicted.
Cooper, 39, who fired four times, was charged with reckless endangerment after one of his bullets went through a window of an occupied AirTrain station across the street from the club. He faces up to a year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
"I believe this office and this grand jury got the results that were most appropriate," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in unsealing the indictment.
Officer Michael Carey, who fired three shots, and Officer Paul Headley, who fired one, weren't charged.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Oliver, Isnora and Cooper were suspended without pay, while Carey and Headley were place on modified duty.
Their supervisor that night, Lt. Gary Napoli - who hid behind a car when the gunfire erupted - was also placed on modified duty.
With the unsealing of the indictment, the NYPD began an internal probe of the shooting. "Recognizing that the shooting death of an unarmed individual by police has exacerbated relations in the minority community, the Police Department will redouble its efforts to build the best possible relations with all of New York City's diverse communities," Kelly said.
Bell's parents, William and Valerie Bell, sat in the third row of the courtroom. Valerie Bell wore a button with a picture of her son.
Before the arraignment, the mother bowed her head, closed her eyes and pressed her hands together as if she were praying.
Nicole Paultre Bell, who was engaged to Bell and legally took his name after he died, sat in the fourth row.
Guzman, in a wheelchair, and Benefield, using a crutch, also were in the courtroom. At one point, Guzman wheeled himself closer to get a better look at Oliver and then shook his head.
As the indictment was read, Valerie Bell began to cry.
The three cops, wearing dark suits, stood expressionless.
Judge Randall Eng asked how each defendant was pleading. Lawyer James Culleton, who represents Oliver, said, "Not-guilty plea to all charges."
Isnora's lawyer, Philip Karasyk, "Not guilty of each and every count of the indictment."
Lawyer Paul Martin, who represents Cooper, said, "The defendant pleads not guilty to each count of the indictment."
Eng set bail for Oliver and Isnora at $250,000 bond, or $100,000 cash each, which was posted by the Detectives Endowment Association. Cooper was released without bail.
Outside the courthouse, Paultre Bell said, "Today is just a baby step in the long road that we have ahead of us."
Guzman stood from his wheelchair to reach the microphone.
"Today, we got an indictment. Round One. We've got a hard road to go," he said. "This was not a victory. It's hollow - that's all it is."
In announcing the indictment, DA Brown said he would oppose any change-of-venue attempts.
"I don't believe that you could find a jury that would be more impartial, thorough or fair than you'd find here in Queens County," he said.
When asked if he would consider a plea bargain, Brown said, "I don't know if any offers were made by the attorneys."
Sharpton, speaking at his Harlem headquarters, adamantly opposed a plea bargain. "We certainly would hope that they will not entertain in any way, shape or form a plea bargain in this case," he said.
Flanked by Paultre Bell, Guzman and Benefield, the civil-rights leader said he was equally opposed to a change of venue being sought by advocates for the cops.
"The question of venue change is not only wrong but insulting the intelligence of the public and the intelligence of the court," he said. "We will not participate in or cooperate with a trial outside of Queens County.
"This case at its best is a return to grief for all of those involved. This is not a cause for joy, celebration or revenge," Sharpton added.
Paultre Bell broke down and sobbed as she watched Brown announce the charges on TV.
Dozens of protesters lined the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Some carried signs. Others wore clothing with sayings referring to the 50 shots that killed Bell.
The protesters included city Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), who called for a special prosecutor to push for punishment for all five cops. "This job is incomplete," he said.
Three protesters were arrested for sitting on the courthouse steps.
At a news conference after the arraignment, Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, condemned the charges against the cops.
"It's a very dark day for the detectives and the NYPD," he said. "The message that's being sent by these charges is more chilling than I originally thought. I don't know how law-enforcement officers throughout this country can now go to work in confidence."
Additional reporting by Jana Winter
Crime & punishment
Fired four times:
* Two counts second-degree reckless endangerment for firing multiple times with people present, causing a bullet to pass through occupied AirTrain station. Up to one year and/ or $1,000 fine.
Fired 11 times:
* One count first-degree manslaughter. Five to 25 years.
* One count second-degree manslaughter for recklessly causing Bell's death. Probation to 15 years.
* One count first-degree assault for intentionally and seriously injuring Guzman. Five to 25 years.
* One count second-degree assault for recklessly injuring Benefield. Two to seven years.
* One count second-degree reckless endangerment for firing multiple times with people present. Up to a year behind bars and/or $1,000 fine.
Fired 31 times:
* One count first-degree manslaughter for causing Sean Bell's death and intending to seriously injure Joseph Guzman. Five to 25 years
* One count seconddegree manslaughter. Probation to 15 years.
* Two counts firstdegree assault. Five to 25 years.
* Two counts second-degree reckless endangerment for firing on street with people present Up to a year and/or $1,000 fine.
Copyright 2007 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.
N.Y.: 2 officers in Sean Bell case could face 50+ years