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NYPD fatally shoot groom after officer's hit by car

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — On the day his honeymoon was to have started, Sean Bell's memory and the manner of his death — shot, unarmed, by police — dominated the latest outcry against city officers' use of deadly force.

Several hundred people held a vigil for Bell on Sunday, some shouting "No justice, no peace!" and demanding the ouster of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Many counted off to 50, the number of rounds estimated to have been fired by police at 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.

The 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, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly planned to meet with community leaders at City Hall on Monday.

None of that stemmed the fury of a community outraged by the shootings.

"We cannot allow this to continue to happen," the Rev. Al Sharpton said at the gathering outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, where one of the two wounded men was in critical condition. "We've got to understand that all of us were in that car."

Relatives of the men attended the vigil and rally but none spoke publicly.

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.

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