Grand jury Weighs Charges Against Officers In NYC Police Shooting

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 7:09 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A possible last-minute witness emerged as the city anxiously watched a grand jury weighing the case of five police officers who unleashed a 50-bullet barrage that killed an unarmed man on his wedding day, authorities said.

The grand jurors were to reconvene Thursday after going home late Wednesday without having decided whether any officers should be indicted.

The Queens district attorney's office knows of a person who came forward Wednesday to say he witnessed the shooting and had information about it, office spokesman Kevin Ryan said. It was unclear whether the grand jury would seek information from the person.

The killing of Sean Bell, 23, and the wounding of his bachelor party guests Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield on Nov. 25 raised questions about police tactics and prompted vigils and protests by civil rights activists.

Bell was black, as are the other victims; three of the officers are black, and two are white.

Detectives' Endowment Association President Michael Palladino said the potential witness came forward on his own to say that someone other than police officers had fired and fled, according to the Daily News.

``This is important information and we wanted to be sure that the grand jury heard it,'' Palladino told the newspaper.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has acted as a sort of spokesman for Bell's family, said: ``There are always in these kinds of cases very questionable last-minute occurrences and tactics.''

The timing of the grand jury's decision was uncertain because the proceedings are private. But city officials were on alert, and extra police officers were on standby in anticipation of the news.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose community outreach program went into overdrive this week as months of grand jury presentations wound down, acknowledged ``there will be plenty of people who will disagree no matter what'' the decision is.

He said officers would ensure ``everybody is as safe on the streets before the grand jury rules as afterward.''

Union representatives and lawyers for the officers have said their clients, who were conducting an undercover investigation at a strip club, believed Bell and his friends were going to retrieve a gun from a car after overhearing them argue with another patron. No gun was found.

Guzman, Benefield and Nicole Paultre Bell, who was to marry Bell and legally took his name after his death, joined Sharpton on Wednesday in Harlem, appearing on his radio show while awaiting the grand jury's decision.

``I need justice,'' said Guzman, who was shot 16 times.

``I'm praying,'' said Paultre Bell.

Sharpton said Tuesday that ``certain levels of protests and visible actions'' would likely arise if there were no indictments, but he said he expected those actions to be peaceful.

``Rather than worry if there's going to be violence, I would think they'd be worried about the violence that already occurred,'' he said in an interview. ``Fifty shots is about as violent as you can get.''

The officers testified in ascending order, based on the number of bullets they fired.

Detective Paul Headley, who fired one round, and Officer Michael Carey, who fired three, testified first. Officer Marc Cooper fired four shots, and he was followed to the stand by Officer Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 shots. Michael Oliver, who reloaded and fired 31 shots, went last on Friday.

The grand jurors had been instructed to consider several charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide stemming from Bell's death; and attempted murder, assault or reckless endangerment in the wounding of Benefield and Guzman.