03/16/2007

Grand jury indicts 3 officers in NYPD shooting

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Three of the five policemen whose 50-bullet barrage killed an unarmed man on his wedding day were indicted Friday in a case that heightened racial tensions and renewed allegations that the city's officers are too fast on the trigger.


Queens District Attorney Richard Brown arrives for a news conference at the Queens Criminal court buliding Monday in New York.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Attorneys for officers Marc Cooper, Gerscard Isnora and Michael Oliver said their clients had been indicted, but they did not know what offenses the officers had been charged with.

The three officers fired the most shots -- Cooper, 4, Isnora, 11, and Oliver, 31 -- in the Nov. 25 confrontation that killed 23-year-old Sean Bell and wounded two of his friends as they left Bell's bachelor party at a strip club in Queens.

The shooting stirred outrage around New York City and led to accusations of racism against police. Bell was black, as are two of his friends who were wounded in the shooting. Cooper and Isnora are black. Oliver is white.

District Attorney Richard A. Brown said only that the grand jury had reached a decision and it would be announced Monday. He gave no reason for the delay, but indictments are often kept sealed until attorneys and their clients are notified and arrangements can be made for the defendants to surrender.


Calvin Hunt stands in front of the Queens criminal courthouse, Monday,  in New York. Hunt came to protest against the police officers indicted in the November killing of Sean Bell outside a Queens nightclub. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

A person familiar with the case told the AP that the other two officers in the shooting -- one black and one white -- were not charged. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the grand jury's decision has not been made public.

The case also brought back painful memories of other infamous police shootings in New York City, including the 1999 killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 bullets. The officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges.

Police union officials defended the officers, arguing they were responding to reasonable suspicions the victims were armed and dangerous.

''This indictment sends a chilling message to all New York City police officers and to all law enforcement throughout the country,'' said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association. ''You can act in good faith and there is no margin for error.''

Isnora, 28, was ''very upset,'' attorney Philip Karasyk said. ''But he is confident that once he has his day in court he will be vindicated.''

The grand jury's decision came after three days of deliberations.

Anticipation has been running high around New York City about the grand jury's decision. Extra police officers were put on standby, and the mayor met with black leaders in the Queens neighborhood where the shooting occurred in hopes of defusing any tensions that might arise from the decision.

''Whatever the grand jury says ... I think you will see the people of this city behaving in an exemplary manner,'' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday. ''They can be disappointed, they can express themselves -- that's freedom of speech, I don't have a problem with that. But nobody is going to go out and make our streets unsafe.''

Peter St. George Davis, attorney for Sean Bell's parents, said his clients are devastated. ''But they pray every day that somehow, out of their son's death will come a message or lasting legacy.''

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the charges marked an important first step in the fight for justice in the case.

''The only way you make sure it doesn't happen again is you stop it, and you punish it and you send a signal that we live in a society where laws have to be respected,'' he said. ''So there is no joy, no vengeance, no party here.''

A 23-person grand jury heard the case, and 12 grand jurors needed to vote for an indictment for charges to be brought. The panel includes eight blacks, seven whites, and a mix of Hispanics and Asians.

Grand jurors had been instructed to consider several charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide stemming from Bell's death; and attempted murder, assault or reckless endangerment in the wounding of survivors Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.

The five officers were among the more than 60 witnesses who testified before the grand jury. Benefield and Guzman also gave their version, insisting the officers fired without warning.

 

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