By Adam Goldman
Sunday, November 26, 2006
NEW YORK, Nov. 25 -- Police fired 50 shots at a car full of men leaving a bachelor party at a strip club early Saturday, killing a bridegroom hours before his wedding, after an undercover officer was rammed with the car.
The spray of bullets hit the car 21 times, after the vehicle rammed into an undercover officer and then twice into an unmarked New York Police Department minivan, police said. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly would not say if the collisions were what prompted police to open fire. It was too early to say whether the shooting was justified, Kelly said.
Police at first thought one of the men in the car might have had a gun. But armed with a search warrant, they found no weapons.
"Although it is too early to draw conclusions about this morning's shootings . . . we know that the NYPD officers on the scene had reason to believe that an altercation involving a firearm was about to happen and were trying to stop it," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) said in a statement.
Kelly said the incident stemmed from an undercover operation inside the Queens strip club, the Kalua Cabaret. Seven officers in plain clothes were investigating the club, and five were involved in the shooting. The gunfire also hit nearby homes and a train station, though no residents were injured.
A veteran officer fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said. All the officers carried 9mm handguns.
The groom, who was driving, was identified as Sean Bell, 23. He was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. Joseph Guzman, 31, was in the front seat and was shot at least 11 times. Trent Benefield, 23, who was in the back seat, was hit three times. Both men were taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, where Guzman was listed in critical condition and Benefield was in stable condition.
Three officers, including the one hit by the car, were treated and released. Another detective remained hospitalized for hypertension, Kelly said.
Abraham Kamara, 38, who lives a few blocks from the club, said he was getting ready for work at about 4 a.m. when he heard bursts of gunfire. "First it was like four shots," he said. "And then it was like pop-pop-pop, like 12 times."
A grand jury is investigating the incident. Kelly said none of the officers who discharged weapons had been involved in previous police shootings.
The shooting drew angry protests from family members and Al Sharpton.
"This stinks. Something about the story being told did not seem right," Sharpton said at Jamaica Hospital, where he stood with about two dozen members of Bell's and his fiancee's families.
Sharpton said Bell and his fiancee had two children, ages 3 years and 5 months.
At another news conference, at Mary Immaculate Hospital, Sharpton said he was outraged to find Guzman and Benefield handcuffed to their hospital beds.
"We're not anti-police . . . we're anti-police-brutality," Sharpton said.
The two were unshackled later on Saturday and have not been charged with a crime.
Robert Porter, who identified himself as Bell's first cousin, said he was supposed to be a DJ at the wedding. He said about 250 people were invited and were flying in from all over the country. He said that his cousin was not the type to confront police and that Bell was "on the straight and narrow."
"I still don't want to believe it," Porter said. "A beautiful day like this, and he was going to have a beautiful wedding, he was going to live forever with his wife and children. And this happened."
Roy Brown, who said he works as a photographer at the Kalua Cabaret, said the three men "weren't rowdy or nothing like that."