Sean Bell shooting incident: Wikis


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Memorial to Sean Bell at the place of the shooting

The Sean Bell shooting incident took place in the New York City borough of Queens on November 25, 2006, in which one Latino and two African-American men were shot a total of fifty times by a team of both plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers, killing one of the men, Sean Bell, on the morning after his bachelor party, and severely wounding two of his friends.[1] The incident sparked fierce criticism of the police from some members of the public and drew comparisons to the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo.[2] Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial[3] on charges ranging from manslaughter to reckless endangerment, and were found not guilty.[4]



Sean Bell (May 18, 1983 – November 25, 2006) was the nephew of the University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith.[5] As a teenager, he studied acting in Flushing, Queens.[6] He was a pitcher for John Adams High School in Ozone Park. His senior year season ended with an 11-0 record, a 2.30 E.R.A. and 97 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. Bell held odd jobs after the birth of his daughter. His former fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, told Larry King that Bell was an electrician by trade and in between jobs when the shooting occurred.[7]

Bell had been arrested three times, twice for drug dealing and once for a firearms possession.[8] In all cases, he was released on his own recognizance.[9] The New York Daily News reported that, according to unnamed law enforcement sources, Bell sold crack cocaine twice to a confidential police informant in August 2006.[10]

The two men who were injured by the police, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, had been arrested nine and three times, respectively, each having been arrested at least once for illegal firearm possession.[8] Guzman had been previously arrested for armed robbery, spending two separate terms in a state prison.[8] Benefield had a sealed record as a juvenile for gun possession and robbery.[8]

Shooting incident

The night of the shooting, Bell was holding his bachelor party at Club Kalua in the Jamaica section of Queens, a venue that was being investigated by seven undercover police detectives, as a result of accusations that the owners of the club had been fostering prostitution.[11]

The New York Post reported that, according to an unnamed undercover officer, Guzman had an argument inside the club with a woman and threatened to get a gun. One of Bell's friends was heard to say "yo, get my gun" as they left the scene.[12] Fearing a shooting might occur, African American plain-clothed officer Gescard Isnora followed the men to their car while alerting his backup team, prompting the team to confront Bell and his companions before they could leave the scene.[12] Isnora "held out his badge (by his account), identified himself as a police officer, and told the car to stop."[13]. Instead, Bell accelerated the car and hit Isnora, then hit an unmarked police minivan.[2] By all accounts, Gescard Isnora thought he saw Guzman reach for a gun while in the car, yelled "gun" to other police at the scene, and opened fire on the car. The other officers and detectives joined him in shooting at the car, firing 50 bullets in a few seconds.

A toxicology report showed that he was legally intoxicated at the time of the shooting. An attorney for the Bell family said in response to the report, "No matter what his blood-alcohol level was, he's a victim."[14]

Other accounts of the incident conflict with that of the undercover officers. According to Guzman, the detectives never identified themselves while they approached the vehicle with drawn weapons.[10] Another source also told New York Daily News that the officers failed to warn Bell before opening fire and started firing immediately upon leaving their vehicles.[15]

The police officer who initiated the gunfire later said that he saw a fourth man in the car, who fled the scene amid the chaos, possibly in possession of the alleged weapon. Jean Nelson, a friend of Bell, was speculated to have been the fourth man. Although present at the time of the shooting, Nelson denies being in the car or possessing a gun.[16][17] According to The New York Times, a preliminary police report of the shooting contains

"... no meaningful discussion of a fourth man, a mysterious figure who some in the Police Department have suggested may have been present along with the three men who were shot. None of the witnesses whose accounts are in the report speaks of someone who may have fled — perhaps possessing a gun — and there are no indications that the police at the time were seeking anyone who may have left the scene."[18]

Critics suggest that the scenario was concocted by the police officer in order to justify the shooting.[16] Columnist Juan Gonzalez reported in the New York Daily News that, according to a law enforcement source, in the hours immediately following the incident, there was no mention of a fourth man in the police calls and no search was launched for the potentially armed man. This source thus contradicted initial reports that the police searched the neighborhood for the missing man.[19]

According to Michael Palladino, the head of the detectives union, a man who was working as a janitor in a nearby building while the incident occurred later told the detectives that he had seen a black man fleeing the scene, and that the man had fired a gun, at least once, at the police. The witness further stated that he had then heard the officers shouting "police, police." However, according to ballistic evidence, there was no indication of any other weapon, aside from those of the officers, fired at the scene.[20]

In an interview on Larry King Live, accompanying Bell's former fiancée Nicole Paultre, Al Sharpton stated that according to his conversations with eyewitnesses, none of the three men who were shot mentioned a gun while leaving the club. Sharpton also felt that it would be impossible for the persons in the car to have heard the police from within the car, and that they were likely to fear that they were being car-jacked.[7] Several of the witnesses received payment from Sharpton, and several groups, including the NYPD Detectives union have questioned the ethics of these payments, calling into question the witnesses' credibility, to which Sharpton has replied, "How can [the Detectives Endowment Association] support the detectives and I can't support the victims?"[21]

Five of the seven officers investigating the club were involved in the shooting. Detective Paul Headley fired one round, Officer Michael Carey fired three, Officer Marc Cooper fired four, Officer Gescard Isnora fired eleven, and veteran officer Michael Oliver emptied two full magazines, firing 31 shots from a 9mm handgun and pausing to reload at least once.[22][23][24][25]

An autopsy showed Bell was struck four times in the neck and torso.[26] Guzman(31 y.o.) was shot 19 times[27] and Benefield (23 y.o.), who was in the back seat, was hit three times. Both men were taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital; at the time of admission Guzman was listed in critical condition and Benefield was in stable condition. Guzman and Benefield would ultimately survive the shooting.[22] Benefield was released from the hospital on 5 December 2006,[28] while Guzman was released on 25 January 2007.[29] Surveillance cameras at the Port Authority's Jamaica AirTrain station a half block away from the shooting site recorded one of the bullets fired by the officers shattering through the station's glass window and narrowly missing a civilian and two Port Authority patrolmen who were standing on the station's elevated platform.[19][30]

Response to the shooting

Hundreds of protesters came out over the weekend following Bell's death to protest the amount of force used; protests continued into the following week.[31][32]

Some have noted the similarity between this incident and past shootings of unarmed people, such as Amadou Diallo and Ousmane Zongo.[2][33] The family has designated Al Sharpton as their advisor.[34]

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has said "it sounds to me like excessive force was used,"[35] and has called the shooting "inexplicable" and "unacceptable".[34] Ex-New York governor George E. Pataki has also stated that the shooting was excessive.[34] Kelly has put the five officers involved on paid administrative leave and stripped them of their weapons, a move the New York Times called "forceful".[34] He told the Times that the officers were stripped of their guns because "there were, and are, too many unanswered questions."[34] Both Bloomberg and Kelly have also noted that the shooting was possibly in violation of department guidelines prohibiting shooting at a moving vehicle, even if the vehicle is being used as a weapon.[36] The Public Advocate extended condolences to Bell's former fiancée and family following the killing.[37]

On December 7, 2006, Nicole Paultre legally changed her name to Nicole Paultre Bell to "honor the memory" of Sean Bell.[38] New York State laws require a couple to obtain a marriage license prior to a wedding, and "although the marriage license is issued immediately, the marriage ceremony may not take place within 24 hours from the exact time that the license was issued."[39] According to Nicole Paultre's attorney, a posthumous wedding was impossible since no marriage license had yet been signed.[38]

On March 5, 2007, it was announced that a Rikers Island inmate offered to pay an undercover police officer posing as a hit man to behead New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly and bomb police headquarters in retaliation for the incident.[40][41]

On March 25, 2007, New York Daily News reported that an unnamed Queens drug dealer, after being arrested, alleged that Sean Bell had shot him the previous year on July 13, 2006 over a drug turf dispute. Police sources called the drug dealer's account credible, but could not rule out the possibility of the drug dealer falsely identifying Sean Bell to garner favor with authorities. Sanford Rubenstein, (the attorney representing the Bell family, Nicole Paultre, and the two other occupants of the vehicle that were wounded during the shooting) denounced this development, saying, "We expected them to throw dirt at us and they are throwing dirt at us." NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau detectives say the dealer's tale has no direct bearing on the police shooting of Bell, though some legal experts said that it could help the defense by portraying Sean Bell as possibly armed and dangerous.[42]

Investigation and criminal indictment

At that time, some activists called for a special prosecutor in the case, but New York's then-Governor Eliot Spitzer said he did not see the need for it[28] although Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo promised to keep a watch on the criminal proceedings. The Queens district attorney's office interviewed over 100 witnesses and presented more than 500 exhibits to a grand jury.[43] An issue considered by the grand jury was the New York State Penal Code's description of circumstances under which a police officer can use deadly force: "The use of deadly physical force is necessary to defend the police officer or peace officer or another person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force."[44][45]

On March 16, 2007, three of the five police officers involved in the shooting were indicted by a grand jury. Officer Gescard Isnora, who fired the first shot, and Officer Michael Oliver, who fired 31 of the 50 shots, faced charges of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault; while Detective Marc Cooper faced the lesser charge of two counts of reckless endangerment.[43] All three detectives pleaded not guilty at the arraignment hearing on March 19, 2007. Detectives Isnora and Oliver were released on bail and Detective Cooper on his own recognizance.[43]

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Second Department, denied a motion by the detectives' attorneys to move the trial to a venue outside of Queens. Following the adverse ruling, the detectives waived a jury trial and instead submitted to a bench trial.

The District Attorney Richard Brown has faced some criticism from activists who believe he did not question the police officers involved quickly enough.[46]

Trial and acquittal on all charges

On April 25, 2008, all three of the police officers indicted were acquitted on all counts. The defendants opted to have Justice Arthur J. Cooperman make a ruling rather than a jury. The ruling was handed down in a state supreme court in Queens.[47]

A key defense forensic witness was Alexander Jason,[48] a crime scene analyst and ballistics expert who disproved several of the prosecution's main points relating to the physical evidence. Among them was the timing of the incident. After doing tests with an NYPD pistol, Jason demonstrated that the 31 shots fired by one detective (Oliver) could have been done in about 12 seconds – not several minutes.[49] Using high speed video during ballistic testing, Jason demonstrated that bullets fired through a car window would project glass both inside and outside the car and that this could be interpreted as shots coming from inside.[50] Another of Jason's key points (mentioned in Judge Cooperman's written verdict[51]) was that the person in the back seat of Bell's car (Benefield) was not shot while he was running away as he claimed, but while inside the car. Jason used high tech 3D graphics to display some of his findings.[52]

In the ruling, Justice Cooperman cited the fact that testimony by Guzman, and Benefield did not make sense. He also cited the fact that they had a pending 50 million dollar lawsuit against the city. After the ruling was made, the family, led by Sharpton and several others went to Bell's graveside in Port Washington, Long Island for a memorial service.

"Slowdown" protest

On May 7, 2008, Sharpton led a series of protests in New York City. Hundreds took to the streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn as part of the citywide "slowdown" effort led by Sharpton and his National Action Network. The crowd made its way to the streets stopping the flow of traffic in many vital areas of the city. This led to police action, and the arrest of over 200 people, including Sharpton himself. Sharpton was arrested without incident at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. Bell's parents, his former fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, and the two shooting victims who survived, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman were also arrested.[53]

Civil case

On July 24, 2007, attorney Sanford Rubenstein filed a civil lawsuit against the officers involved in the shooting and against the NYPD on behalf of Bell's former fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell. They plan on continuing with a lawsuit despite the acquittal of the officers in the criminal case.


Rappers Nicki Minaj, The Game and Chamillionaire have each referenced the Sean Bell case in one of their songs. Nicki Minaj dedicated part of her verse New York Minute to Sean Bell "Theres gotta be a heaven cause Sean Bell will never get to make it to his wedding". Chamillionaire referenced the case on the Mixtape Messiah 2 disc at the end of the song "Ridin Overseas"[54] where he says, "Rest in peace to Sean Bell". The Game dedicated the controversial song "911 is a joke"[55] to Sean Bell. Also, The Game dedicated the song, "My Life" (feat. Lil Wayne), to Sean Bell as well. Bun B also references Sean Bell in his song Get Cha Issue.

I hate the muthafuckin' pigs cause them pigs hate me
and I should kill 51 cops
for the 51 shots
that they gave that fuckin' kid in New York

During an interview, with Music Choice, the Game began to cry when he spoke about the Sean Bell case and how so many rappers didn't care enough to contribute to the song.[56]

Swizz Beatz, Cassidy, Maino, Styles P, Talib Kweli & Drag-On recorded a song entitled "Stand Up (The Sean Bell Tribute Song)" that was produced by The Heatmakerz in which they share their thoughts on the Sean Bell shooting.[57][58][59]

Kyp Malone's band Rain Machine references Sean Bell in their song "Smiling Black Faces" in lyrics "And on his wedding day/They took Sean Bell away/Cops let their bullets spray".[60]

See also


  1. ^ Fernandez, Manny (2008-04-27). "In Bell Case, Black New Yorkers See Nuances That Temper Rage". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-01.  
  2. ^ a b c C. Buckley, W.K. Rashbaum. "A Day After a Fatal Shooting, Questions, Mourning and Protest." The New York Times, November 27, 2006
  3. ^ A. Baker, 50-Shot Barrage Leads to Charges for 3 Detectives, The New York Times, 17 March 2007.
  4. ^ Not Guilty: Detectives Charged In Sean Bell Shooting Acquitted On All Counts, NY1 News, April 25, 2008
  5. ^ "Bloomberg meets with family of shooting victim at their church". Associated Press. 27 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-27.  
  6. ^ Carrie Melago, "Drama Teacher Recalls Bell had His Act Together," New York Daily News," December 16, 2006, p. 6
  7. ^ a b Transcript from Larry King Live interview with Nicole Paultre and Al Sharpton. CNN, Aired December 4, 2006. Retrieved December 5, 2006.
  8. ^ a b c d New York Mayor Promises 'Fair and Thorough' Investigation of Groom's Death, Fox News, November 27, 2006.
  9. ^ E. Vasquez, D. Khan. "Pastor Remembers a Confident Family Man Looking Forward to His Marriage". The New York Times, November 27, 2006. Retrieved on November 27, 2006
  10. ^ a b Pal of Sean begs, 'No violence', New York Daily News, December 5, 2006
  11. ^ For Owners of Club in Police Shooting Case, Years of Raids and Suits, December 3, 2006.
  12. ^ a b Weiss, Murray (2006-11-07). "10 Seconds of Hell in Queens". New York Post. pp. 3. Retrieved 2008-08-19.  
  13. ^ Time for the Truth About Black Crime Rates by Heather Mac Donald
  14. ^ Officials: Police shooting victim was intoxicated behind wheel Associated Press, December 22, 2006 Retrieved on April 25, 2008.
  15. ^ "Mayor says 'excessive force' used in stag party shooting", Irish Examiner, November 27, 2006. Retrieved on November 30, 2006.
  16. ^ a b Associated Press, "Man Denies Being Figure in NYC Shooting". The New York Times. 12 December 2006. Retrieved 12 December 2006.
  17. ^ Juan Gonzalez "Fourth Man: My Story," New York Daily News, 15 December 2006
  18. ^ W.K. Rashbaum, A. Baker, "50 Bullets, One Dead, and Many Questions". The New York Times, 11 December 2006. Retrieved 12 December 2006.
  19. ^ a b J. Gonzalez, "No dragnet for 'fourth man'", New York Daily News, 12 December 2006. Retrieved 14 December 2006.
  20. ^ Surprise Witness Testifies Before Grand Jury In Bell Case, NY1 News, 15 March 2007.
  21. ^ "Rev. Al in Tax Deal". New York Post. Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  22. ^ a b "Police fire 50 rounds, kill groom on day of wedding", CNN, November 26, 2006.
  23. ^ For 5 Officers, No Shots Fired for Years, and Then 50 at Once The New York Times. 29 November 2006.
  24. ^ Two Officers Speak to Grand Jury On Killing of Unarmed Black Man The New York Times. 6 March 2007.
  25. ^ Undercover Detective Who Fired First Shot Testifies in Police Killing in Queens The New York Times. 8 March 2007.
  26. ^ Stacey Francisco, Terry Frieden and Ellen Rose (November 29, 2006). N.Y. mayor meets with dead groom's family. CNN
  27. ^ "Doctor Tells of a 19-Gunshot-Wound Survivor". The New York Times. 2 April 2008.
  28. ^ a b "Man Wounded in Queens Shooting Leaves the Hospital". The New York Times. 6 December 2006.
  29. ^ "N.Y. police shooting survivor recalls friend's last words". CNN. 25 January 2007.
  30. ^ Democracy Now, Report on AirTran station surveillance videos, 14 December 2006.
  31. ^ A. Gendar, S. Schifrel, B. Huthinson. "Anger in street". New York Daily News, November 27, 2006. Retrieved on November 27, 2006
  32. ^ "Heart of Darkness: Pursuing Justice and Keeping Sean Bell's Memory Alive". The Indypendent, January 10, 2007.
  33. ^ "50 Shots Fired, and the Experts Offer a Theory". The New York Times. 27 November 2006.
  34. ^ a b c d e "Police Commissioner Looks Ahead, and Back". New York Times. 30 November 2006.
  35. ^ J. Holusha, D. Cardwell. "Mayor Says Shooting Was "Excessive." New York Times, November 27, 2006. Retrieved on November 27, 2006
  36. ^ Baker, Al (2006-11-30). [ "Police Statements Vary on Firing at a Vehicle"]. New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-15.  
  37. ^ "Residents Need Answers on Tragic Queens Shooting". Public Advocate for the City of New York Newsletter. 4 December 2006.
  38. ^ a b "Fiancé of Man Killed by Police Takes His Name". New York Times. 8 December 2006.
  39. ^ "Getting Married in New York State". New York State Department of Health.
  40. ^ "Kelly hit plan foiled". Newsday, March 6, 2007.
  41. ^ "Lawyer: 'Ill' Man Allegedly Targeted NYPD Commish". WCBS-TV. 6 March 2007
  42. ^ "Dealer: I was shot by Bell". New York Daily News. 27 March 2007.
  43. ^ a b c "E. Barry and C. Moynihan, Three Detectives Plead Not Guilty in 50-Shot Killing". The New York Times. 20 March 2007.
  44. ^ "Law gives narrow OK to shoot if 'necessary'". New York Post. 17 March 2007.
  45. ^ "New York State Penal Law, Section 35.30, subdivision 1-c".
  46. ^ "District Attorney Stalls on Interviewing Shooter Cops". The Indypendent. 10 January 2007.
  47. ^ Officers Acquitted in Sean Bell Case, Tell Me More, National Public Radio, 2008-04-25
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^ - The Game's tearful interview
  57. ^ The Making Of Stand Up: Sean Bell Tribute Pt. 1 Watch part 1 of this 3 part series of the making of "Stand Up (Sean Bell Tribute)" with insight from Cassidy, Maino and Drag-On.
  58. ^ The Making Of Stand Up: Sean Bell Tribute Pt. 2 In part 2 of the Making of "Stand Up (The Sean Bell Tribute)" we hear from Syles P and Sean Bell's Mother Valarie Bell!
  59. ^ The Making Of Stand Up: Sean Bell Tribute Pt. 3 For the final part of this making of webisode, Swizz Beatz, Rsonist and the Executive Producer of "Stand Up (The Sean Bell Tribute)" speak on this powerful song.
  60. ^ Rain Machine-Rain Machine Drowned in Sound review

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