The Associated Press
NEW YORK- Mayor Michael Bloomberg was "deeply disturbed" by the barrage of gunfire unleashed by officers in a weekend shooting that killed a groom on his wedding day, the mayor said Monday.
"I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired, but that's up to the investigation to find out what really happened," Bloomberg said after meeting with community leaders at City Hall.
Bloomberg was joined by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Charles Rangel and several other officials at the meeting.
Sharpton called it a "very candid, a very blunt meeting." He said the message to Bloomberg was: "This city must show moral outrage that 50 shots were fired on three unarmed men."
Bloomberg was steadfast in his support for Kelly, who has been denounced by some community leaders over the shooting.
"I think he's the best police commissioner the city has ever had," Bloomberg said. "Nobody takes this more seriously than Commissioner Kelly and I do."
Police fired an estimated 50 rounds at the groom, Sean Bell, 23, and two other unarmed men in a car early Saturday, hours before he was to have married the mother of his two children.
Five officers were placed on paid administrative leave and stripped of their guns, said Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the NYPD. Police and prosecutors promised a full investigation.
"This warrants an answer," Rangel said as he arrived for the meeting. "Not just to the families of those that were shot and killed but to the people of the city of New York."
On Sunday, several hundred people held a vigil for Bell, some shouting "No justice, no peace!" and demanding Kelly's ouster.
Kelly has said police shot at the car after it drove forward and struck an undercover officer and an unmarked police minivan. The information was based on interviews with witnesses and two officers who did not fire their weapons, he said.
However, Trini Wright, a dancer at the strip club where Bell's bachelor party was held, told the Daily News she was going to a diner with the men and was putting her makeup bag in the trunk of their car when the police minivan appeared.
"The minivan came around the corner and smashed into their car. And they (the police) jumped out shooting," Wright, 28, told the newspaper for Monday editions. "No 'stop.' No 'freeze.' No nothing."
Kelly had said Saturday it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified. He said it was unclear whether the officers, who were in plain clothes, identified themselves before firing.
Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre, made a quiet visit to the site of his shootings before dawn Monday, lighting candles clustered around a photograph of the smiling couple with one of their daughters.
The shootings occurred after 4 a.m. Saturday outside the Kalua Cabaret in Queens. Kelly said the confrontation stemmed from an undercover operation by seven officers investigating the club.
Bell was struck twice. Joseph Guzman, 31, was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, was hit three times. Guzman was in critical condition Monday and Benefield was stable.
The officers' shots struck the men's car 21 times. They also hit nearby homes and shattered windows at a train station, though no residents were injured.
Police thought one of the men in the car might have had a gun, but investigators found no weapons. It was unclear what prompted police to open fire, Kelly said.
According to Kelly, the groom was involved in a verbal dispute outside the club, and one of his friends referred to a gun.
An undercover officer walked closely behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, the car drove forward, striking the officer and minivan, Kelly said.
That officer was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. He had served on the force for five years. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said.
It was the first time any of the officers, all of whom carried 9 mm handguns, had been involved in a shooting, he said.
At some point, Bell backed the car onto a sidewalk, hitting a building gate, police said. He then drove forward, striking the police vehicle a second time, Kelly said.
The department's policy prohibits shooting at moving vehicles states "unless deadly force is being used against the police officers or another person present, by means other than a moving vehicle."
This isn't the first time the NYPD has come under scrutiny over officer-involved shootings.
In 1999, police killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea in western Africa who was shot 19 times. The four officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges. And in 2003, Ousmane Zongo, a native of Burkina Faso in western Africa, was hit four times, twice in the back. In that case, one officer was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, but acquitted of the more serious charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Rangel said the latest shooting "reminds me of a tragedy that took place with Mr. Diallo. And we can't have that. We can't have that."
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Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.