Funny how this happens right around Trayvon Martin…
Four of the New York City police officers who gunned down groom-to-be Sean Bell on the eve of his wedding day have been fired from the force, the New York Daily News reports.
Detective Gescard Isnora, who fired the first shot, was ruled to have violated police policy by firing his weapon while undercover and will be fired; three other officers involved, Detective Michael Oliver, Detective Marc Cooper and Lt. Gary Napoli, who was the NYPD supervisor at the scene of the shooting, all resigned as part of plea agreements reached with the department. Isnora will also be stripped of his pension and health benefits while Oliver, Cooper and Napoli will each keep all or part of their pensions.
On November 25, 2006, the eve of 23-year-old Sean Bell’s wedding to longtime girlfriend Nicole Paultre, Bell and two friends were celebrating at a Jamaica, Queens, nightclub. As the trio left the establishment, one of Bell’s friends, Joseph Guzman, got into an argument with a man standing outside. During the argument, Detective Isnora claims to have heard one of the men yell “yo, get my gun.” Assuming it was Guzman who’d called for his weapon and that a shooting was about to occur, Isnora followed the trio to their car while calling for backup on his radio. When Bell and friends tried to leave the parking lot they were confronted by Isnora, who was in plain clothes and with gun drawn, and assumed he was someone trying to rob them. The trio attempted to flee in their vehicle, smashing into an unmarked police van carrying Isnora’s backup. It was the collision that prompted Isnora to fire the first shot, and his fellow officers joined in, dumping a total of 50 bullets into Bell and his friends. Bell was killed on the scene while Guzman and Trent Benefield, the third friend, were severely injured. Isnora would later contend that he thought he saw Guzman reaching for a gun while in the car, but Bell and his friends were later discovered to be unarmed.
The 50 rounds of ammunition fired at Bell, Guzman and Benefield came from a total of five officers: Isnora, who fired 11 rounds; Cooper, who fired four rounds; Michael Carey, who fired 3 rounds; Detective Paul Headley, who fired one round; and Oliver, who fired 31 times, stopping once to attach a fresh magazine and nearly emptying it.
Three of the five shooters were indicted on criminal charges — Isnora and Oliver were charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault, while Cooper was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment — all pleading not guilty. On April 25, 2008, all three were acquitted of all charges, sparking widespread protests. The other two shooters, Carey and Headley, received a not guilty verdict in a departmental trial and a departmental reprimand, respectively. Headley left the department on his own; Carey is still on the force.
It is the acquittals that make news of these firings seem less like justice and more like a “too little, too late”-type of consolation prize.
“It really don’t matter,” William Bell, Sean Bell’s father, told the Daily News about the firings. “They still have lives. Pension or no pension, they’re still walking around; they’ll get another job. My son doesn’t have a chance to start over again.”
Sanford A. Rubenstein, the lawyer who represented the Bell estate, Guzman and Benefield, agrees with the firings.
“The police commissioner followed the trial judge’s ruling, which was clearly appropriate based on the evidence,” he told the NY Times of the decision to fire Isnora. About the other officers, Rubenstein says “the fact that they’re no longer on the police force is appropriate.”
Isnora’s lawyer, Philip Karasyk, tells the Times, “The commissioner’s decision to terminate Detective Isnora is extremely disheartening and callous and sends an uncaring message to the hard-working officers of the New York Police Department who put their lives on the line every day.”
In a statement, Michael Palladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association, a detectives’ union, called Isnora’s firing “disgraceful, excessive, and unprecedented,” claiming such treatment “is not for someone who has acted within the law and was justified in a court of law and exonerated by the U.S. Department of Justice.” Palladino was equally indignant when the city settled the civil case related to the shooting, calling it “a joke. The detectives were exonerated … and now the taxpayer is on the hook for $7 million and the attorneys are in line to get $2 million without suffering a scratch.”
On July 27, 2010, a settlement was reached in a civil suit filed by Bell’s fiancée in which the city of New York paid out a total of $7.15 million to Bell’s family, Guzman, who still has four bullets lodged in his body and walks with a cane and leg brace, and Benefield.