Man wounded in NYPD 50-shot barrage gets out of hospital, disputes police account

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 4:46 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) One of two men wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets that killed their unarmed friend hours before his wedding was released from a hospital Tuesday, more than a week after the shooting.

``I thank Al Sharpton and the community for sticking by me,'' Trent Benefield said from a wheelchair flanked by his mother, attorney and pregnant fiancee.

Benefield didn't address the November 25th confrontation or the investigation into it.

Benefield, who was shot three times in the legs, arrived by black limousine with his attorney and relatives at a meeting of community leaders called by Sharpton, the minister and former presidential candidate. The group announced a mass march December 16th through midtown Manhattan's shopping district.

Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, were badly wounded in the shooting by five officers outside a Queens strip club as the men sat in their friend Sean Bell's car. Bell, 23, was killed hours before he was to marry his high school sweetheart.

Police have said an undercover officer began following Bell and his friends to their car after overhearing Guzman threaten to retrieve a gun in a dispute with another man.

As the car started to pull away, it bumped the officer and smashed into an unmarked police van, police said.

The shooting has generated widespread outrage, especially among black New Yorkers. The victims were all black; two of the officers were black, two were white and one was Hispanic.

The five officers have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation by the Queens district attorney's office.

Through his lawyer, the initial shooter has insisted he had his badge out and had identified himself when he opened fire, believing Guzman was pulling a gun. He and other witnesses also have said there was a fourth man in or near the car who escaped on foot, possibly with a weapon.

``No,'' Trent Benefield told NY1 News before he was discharged. ``No fourth man.''

Guzman, speaking from his hospital bed, told the New York Daily News that the officer didn't identify himself and there was no fourth man in the car.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, said community leaders planned to meet again with Mayor Michael Bloomberg soon and were considering calling for the resignation of police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

``The changes that have to be made have to be systemic, and many believe that starts at the top, that means Kelly,'' Butts said.