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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Police involved in the Sean Bell shooting case go to court

It’s Nov. 25, 2006. 1-2-3, shots ring out. 6-7-8, NYPD officers shoot at three black men. 15-16-17, one of the men is to be married later in the day. 30-31-32, by the time the shooting ends, 50 shots have been fired, and Sean Bell, groom-to-be, lays dead. On Feb. 25, the police officers involved in the Nov. 2006 killing of Sean Bell went on trial in Queens, N.Y. Officers Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper face charges in Bell’s shooting. Oliver and Isnora are charged with manslaughter and Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment; all pleaded not guilty.

A bombshell was dropped in the trial on Feb. 29 when Lt. Gary Napoli, leader of the undercover unit that night, told the court he never heard his fellow officers yell stop or identify themselves as policemen. He also said that he “didn’t see any badges” according to The New York Daily News.

CSI Investigator, Detective Chris Florio, more recently revealed that blood was present on Isnora’s gun.

“When I went to take this picture I noticed when I picked up the gun and turned it over, some blood had flaked off. That’s what drew my attention,” Florio testified on March 13. The prosecution has not disclosed to whom the blood belongs.

If it is the blood of Bell or one of his friends, that would imply that Isnora shot the men at close range knowing that they were unarmed said Lawyer Michael Hardy. Hardy represents Bell’s friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman who were injured in the incident.

On the night in question, Bell and some of his friends exited Club Kalua located in Jamaica, Queens where they had just celebrated Bell’s bachelor party. Isnora, who followed Bell and his friends, said that he witnessed Bell get into an argument with a man outside of the club.

As Bell’s group approached their car, the officer said he heard one of them say, “Go get my gun.” Once the group was in the car, Isnora radioed fellow policemen, who were in an unmarked vehicle, to come and assist him. The police vehicle and Bell’s car collided, and at that point the policemen began firing.

There are two stories about how the vehicles collided. The police officers say that Bell’s car hit their vehicle. Eyewitnesses say that the police vehicle hit Bell’s car. Regardless of which story is correct, the shooting that ensued resulted in Bell’s death and serious injury to two of his friends.

Oliver fired 31 shots, including the one that killed Bell, Isnora fired 11 shots, and Cooper fired four shots. Two other officers also fired shots but have not been charged. If convicted, Oliver and Isnora face to up 25 years in prison. Cooper faces up to one year.

“I feel an extreme connection to the Bell case. Every time the police do something wrong and get off, I feel connected. One day it could be my fiancé, brother, father or teacher,” said Courtney Fields, New York native and sophomore at Guilford.

This is not the first time that the activities of the NYPD have been under examination. The 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo is still fresh in the minds of many New Yorkers. Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, was hit 19 times in a series of 41 shots fired at him by NYPD officers in Bronx, N.Y. Those officers were acquitted of criminal charges in 2000.

“The incident doesn’t surprise me,” Fields said. “If Amadou Diallo hadn’t been fired on 40-something times, then I would’ve been surprised. If the NYPD didn’t get off every time they killed someone I would’ve been surprised. But they do, and they always get off, so of course I’m not the least bit surprised. I am surprised that Ray Kelly is still the police commissioner.”

Bell’s fiancée and mother of his two daughters, Nicole Paultre-Bell, was one of the first to testify in the case.

“I wake up one day and my world is turned upside down. I have to know why this happened, my family deserves to know,” said Paultre-Bell, who plans to be in court every day according to The Associated Press. Paultre legally added Bell to her maiden name, after Bell’s death.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a press conference at City Hall to respond to the case. Among those present were the Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Charles Rangel. NBC News quoted Bloomberg as saying the officers used “excessive force” against Bell and his friends.

The police officers opted out of a jury trial. State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman will hear the case by himself.

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