N.Y. Detectives Are Acquitted in Shooting

Justice Dept. Says It Will Review Killing Of Unarmed Man

One of the three New York Police detectives who was acquitted in the killing of Sean Bell apologized to Bell's family in a news conference with union leaders. Video by AP
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 26, 2008

NEW YORK, April 25 -- A New York judge on Friday acquitted three police officers in the killing of an unarmed man in a 50-shot fusillade on his wedding day, a racially charged incident that had sparked debate and protests.

But the police officers -- Detectives Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver, who were acquitted of manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment, and Detective Marc Cooper, who was found not guilty of reckless endangerment -- could still face charges: The Justice Department announced after the verdict that it will review the case to determine whether to prosecute the officers for violating the victim's civil rights.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended court Friday alongside the family of the victim, Sean Bell, said he will launch a series of nonviolent protests Saturday.

After State Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Cooperman announced his verdict, Nicole Paultre Bell, the victim's fiancee and mother of his two daughters, who took his name after his death, left the courtroom in tears.

Outside the Queens courtroom, hundreds of Bell's supporters responded emotionally, some yelling, "No, no, no!" or "Murderers! Murderers!" Others sobbed, prayed or fell to their knees. Supporters marched into the streets and had a few brief scuffles with police.

"This community is angry," said Fay Persaud, a real estate agent from the Jamaica section of Queens, where the shooting happened.

"We told the people on the block, 'Listen, let's give the court a chance,' " said Leroy Gadsden, chair of the legal department of the state chapter of the NAACP. "Now we want to see federal involvement."

After leaving the courthouse, Bell's fiancee and his parents visited his grave site.

The shooting of Bell, a black man, revived memories of previous instances of alleged police brutality in New York, such as the 1999 slaying of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was gunned down in a 41-shot barrage by police officers in the Bronx. But the official responses to the two incidents were starkly different.

From the start, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg voiced criticism of the officers' actions in the Bell case, suggesting the detectives may have used "excessive force." Bloomberg has met with Sharpton and Bell's fiancee and, after the verdict, offered comments aimed at soothing tensions.

"There are no winners in a trial like this," he said in a statement. "An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and father lost their son. No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer."

But Bloomberg cautioned that the decision must be respected. "Though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority," he said.

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