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March 23, 2007
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Ex-officer accused in '84 shooting sympathizes with Sean Bell cops

He feels their pain

BY MATTHEW NESTEL. Special to Newsday
Staff writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this story
Newsday (New York) 
 

It's a small, lonely group: city police officers who have been charged with murder or manslaughter.

Stephen Sullivan, the former Emergency Services officer who was indicted for manslaughter in the 1984 Bronx shooting death of Eleanor Bumpurs, 66, has been there, and says he knows what the three detectives indicted in the Sean Bell shooting case are experiencing.

"I feel for them," Sullivan said yesterday at his Westchester home. "They're going to have a headache. It's going to be a tough thing, a tough thing to get through. If you listen to [the Rev. Al] Sharpton, you'd think these guys are monsters and they couldn't wait to do this to Mr. Bell."

Sullivan is white and Bumpurs was black, and the case was as racially divisive and controversial as any the city has seen.

He was acquitted in a non-jury trial and allowed to return to the force, from which he retired in 1990. He's 65 now, drives a school bus and has five grandchildren.

The Bell indictments - detectives Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver are charged with manslaughter and Det. Marc Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment, with all three pleading not guilty - have brought all those emotional days rushing back to Sullivan.

Sullivan said there is no way to draw definitive conclusions about what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, when police shot and killed Bell, 23, and wounded two of his friends near a Queens strip club where Bell had celebrated his bachelor party. The three men were unarmed.

Back in 1984, it was Sullivan who was questioned, criticized and vilified by activists and protesters who considered the NYPD a far-too-white collection of overly aggressive officers.

Sullivan and five other officers had gone to Bumpurs' apartment to evict her for nonpayment of rent. Bumpurs, an emotionally disturbed woman who weighed nearly 300 pounds, pulled out a 10-inch knife, lunged at police and was shot dead by Sullivan.

During the ensuing outcry, each of the more than 200 Emergency Services cops working at the time put in for transfers. The transfers were not granted, but cops sympathetic to Sullivan continued their support for him, with 7,000 police officers rallying one day outside State Supreme Court in the Bronx.

All these years later, Sullivan remains sure he did nothing wrong.

"I think I acted correctly," he said. "And I'm still standing."

Sullivan was a 19-year veteran at the time. His future, he figured then, already was planned out. He'd retire after 20 years and become a mailman, the same job he held for two years before joining the NYPD.

The Bumpurs case changed that. After his acquittal, he decided to return to the one job he had dreamed of doing since he was a kid. He retired several years later.

Today, he drives a school bus for handicapped students and lives with his wife, Maureen. They have a daughter, Christine, who is a nurse, and a son, also Stephen, who initially followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a police officer.

The younger Sullivan stayed on the force two years, assigned to the 44th Precinct, where his father got his start, and then joined the Fire Department. He was among the responders to the March 7 blaze on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx that killed 10 people.

The elder Sullivan, meanwhile, seems to harbor no bitterness.

"I did 25 years in the PD," he said. "It wasn't a bad job."

Staff writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this story. 

Copyright 2007 Newsday, Inc.

 


 

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