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Manslaughter Charges For Officers in Sean Bell Murder

The Headline Reads: Officers Face Manslaughter Charges in Sean Bell Case (NYT)

Two New York City police detectives were charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Sean Bell, the unarmed 23-year-old black man who died in a burst of 50 police bullets, the Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, said at a news conference today.

The eight-count indictment was handed up by a grand jury on Friday and unsealed this morning. In it, Det. Michael Oliver, 35, who fired his pistol 31 times, and Det. Gerard Isnora, 28, an undercover officer who fired 11 shots, are charged with both first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in Mr. Bell’s death, Mr. Brown said.

First-degree manslaughter is classified as a violent felony with mandatory prison time if the officers are convicted. The maximum punishment is 25 years, the district attorney said. With second-degree manslaughter, by contrast, judges have discretion to sentence a defendant to probation rather than prison.

A third detective, Marc Cooper, who fired four shots in the November incident, is also charged in the indictment. He faces two counts of reckless endangerment; Mr. Oliver and Mr. Isnora also face one count each of reckless endangerment.

The three indicted men appeared early this morning at a courthouse in Queens, along with their lawyers, to formally surrender and be fingerprinted and processed, according to reporters at the scene.

“This case, at its best, is a return to grief for all of those involved,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a press conference, surrounded by family members and friends of Mr. Bell, right after the indictments were announced.

The police officers arrived at the Queens Criminal Couth building in Kew Gardens just before 7 a.m. to turn themselves in and entered the building through a back entrance. Police union officials entered shortly afterward. The three are to be arraigned this afternoon.

“This grand jury acted in the most responsible and conscientious fashion,” said Mr. Brown. “This was a case that was, I’m sure, not easy for them to resolve.”

Mr. Brown said he would oppose any attempts to move the trial out of Queens: “This is where public opinion is equally divided, in my opinion. The jury should be representative of the diversity of this county.”

Mr. Brown called the investigation into the case “as thorough and complete as I’ve ever participated in.”

His office interviewed more than 100 witnesses and reviewed over 500 exhibits, he said. Testimony before the grand jury took place over 22 days.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also reacted to the indictment:

“Although some people will be disappointed in the Grand Jury’s decision, we have to respect the result of our justice system,” he said.

“Nothing anyone can do will bring back Sean Bell,” he said. “But we can resolve to learn what lessons we can from this tragedy."

The shooting, which took place in Jamaica early on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006, strained relations between the department and minority communities. Mr. Isnora and Mr. Cooper are black. Mr. Oliver is white.

They were among five police officers who fired into a car carrying Mr. Bell, who was about to be married, and two of his friends during a chaotic confrontation on Liverpool Street.. The fourth and fifth officers, who fired a total of four shots between them, were not indicted.

Neither Mr. Bell nor his friends, both of whom were wounded, were armed, although the police officers apparently believed that they were. There have also been conflicting suggestions that a fourth civilian may have been present and possibly armed.

All five officers testified voluntarily before the grand jury without immunity from prosecution.

The four reckless endangerment counts in the indictment stemmed from the danger that the officers’ gunfire posed to others besides Mr. Bell — in the street, in an occupied residence that was struck by one bullet, and in the nearby AirTrain station, which was hit by another.

The grand jury reached its decision after three days of deliberations and nearly two months of hearing evidence, in an emotionally charged case whose stark outlines prompted anger and widespread comparisons to the death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African street peddler who was felled by 19 of the 41 bullets fired at him by four police officers in 1999.

This morning, several hundred activists waited outside the Queens courthouse in the sunshine. James Sanders Jr., a councilman representing southeast Queens, had mixed feelings.

“I think this is an example where if the people did not stand up, I don’t think we would have seen any charges,” he said.

He said he would have preferred the charges to include murder, and speculated that Mr. Brown was trying to avoid the mistake made by his counterpart in the Diallo case, who “hit them with too heavy a charge.” (The four officers in that case were indicted but later acquitted.)

“You’re looking at a compromise across the board,” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Brown, clearly aware of the controversy the case has stirred, emphasized that an indictment isn’t the same as a conviction, and as such, he refused to elaborate much on the charges.

“This case is going to be tried in the courtroom,” he said. “Folks are just going to have to make up their own minds after they hear all of the evidence, on both sides of this issues. Hopefully the result will be one that will make most fair minded individuals happy.”

Christine Hauser, Maria Newman, Ellen Berry and Sewell Chan contributed reporting for this article.

Hmmm, was justice really be served in this case? I don't think so, but I suppose we all have to wait on the outcome.

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posted by Soulfull @ 3:49 PM


At 3/20/2007 4:26 AM, Blogger MsJayy said...

Shameful situation. I've never understood why it took so many shots to stop a person, even if that person had a gun.

Though not over, I pray the family feels some degree of satisfaction with the indictments though nothing that's done will bring Sean back.

At 3/20/2007 9:17 PM, Blogger Soulfull said...

Hey J! Indeed, my prayers continue to go out to all the families in this situation. It's truly sad how one decision/mistake can alter the fabric of so many lives. :sigh:


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