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Monday, December 11, 2006

Does this make sense?

50 Bullets, One Dead, and Many Questions

When the shooting stopped, the police lieutenant edged toward the gray Nissan Altima with his gun drawn. He ordered the men inside to show their hands. The lieutenant had not fired his weapon, and as he neared the car, according to police records, one of the bloodied men inside complied and stuck his hands out the window. The other did not move.

A police sergeant who arrived seconds later described the scene this way: The Nissan had crashed into a van in the middle of the street. Smoke was coming from its radiator. The man in the driver’s seat was slumped back. His passenger was lying across his lap with his arms hanging outside the driver’s window.

The sergeant, Michael Wheeler, later told investigators that both men appeared seriously injured and likely to die, according to the records. A plainclothes officer stood close by, his pistol still trained on the two men in the car. A third man lay on the street nearby.

Minutes later, the shooting scene on Liverpool Street in Jamaica, Queens, was choked with marked police cars and the scrum of officials that follows a police shooting. A captain ordered another uniformed sergeant, Donald Kipp, to locate and inspect the weapons of the men involved in the shooting. In all, five plainclothes officers had fired a total of 50 bullets.

The accounts are included in the Police Department’s preliminary report of the shooting early on Nov. 25 that left the car’s driver, Sean Bell, 23, dead on his wedding day and two of his friends wounded, one seriously. The men were part of a larger group that had just attended Mr. Bell’s bachelor party in a strip club down the block.

The 23-page document prepared in the days after the shooting, and obtained by The New York Times, does not include the accounts of the four detectives and one police officer who fired their weapons. They are the subjects of an investigation by the office of the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, and it is not clear if they will submit to interviews with prosecutors or testify before a grand jury.

But the report provides the most detailed account, and the best chronology made public to date, of the shooting itself, the events that led up to it and what people saw and heard.


¶The undercover detective who fired the first shot — and fired a total of 11 rounds — emptied his gun, a Glock Model 26, which holds 10 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. He was not wearing his bulletproof vest or carrying his gun during the undercover operation; going without the vest and the gun is routine procedure. He retrieved his gun from a car but did not put on his vest — as another detective did — and remained vulnerable as the group of officers scrambled to deal with what they feared was an imminent eruption of violence.

¶Mr. Bell, mortally wounded and not speaking, and Joseph Guzman, despite wounds from his head to his feet, were put in handcuffs after the gunfire ceased.

¶None of the witnesses — police or civilians — whose accounts are detailed in the report recall hearing anything close to 50 rounds. One detective says she heard eight shots fired with no pause. Another detective heard shots in three rapid successions, but the report includes no number. A third detective heard “numerous” shots. The report also refers to 31 “ear-witnesses” whose statements have been taken, but does not describe what they said. One of the victims, Trent Benefield, recalls eight or nine shots being fired.

¶Mr. Benefield said a man he had not seen before stood in front of Mr. Bell’s car and simply opened fire, striking Mr. Guzman once, and that Mr. Bell then repeatedly drove forward and in reverse and collided with other vehicles in an attempt to drive away. His account differs from those of some officers that the detective opened fire after Mr. Bell’s car had struck him, crashed into a police van, and then nearly hit him a second time.

¶Lieutenant Napoli’s account makes clear that he believed the men in Mr. Bell’s car knew he was a police officer because he had made eye contact with one of them. The report says Lieutenant Napoli could not articulate why he believed that. Lawyers representing Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield have declared that they had no idea the men they encountered that night on Liverpool Street were the police.

¶The report lists the arrest records of the three men shot that night. Each had been arrested in crimes involving firearms, though no specifics of those crimes are given. Nor is the final disposition of those cases included in the report.

Anger Outside the Club

When he reached the sidewalk outside, the scene was becoming volatile.

A group of about eight men stood on the sidewalk. They were arguing with a man dressed all in black standing next to a black truck with spinning rims, possibly a Lincoln Navigator, according to the undercover detective’s account. The dispute was about a woman who had indicated she would not have sex with all the men. Tensions flared. The man dressed in black kept his right hand inside his jacket pocket, as if he were armed.

Mr. Guzman said, “Yo, get my gun, get my gun,” and Mr. Bell told his friends they should beat up the man dressed in black, according to the undercover detective’s account.

The eight men broke into two groups of four and started walking east along 94th Avenue, toward Liverpool Street, with Mr. Bell and Mr. Guzman in the trailing group. The second group then hesitated, walked back to the man dressed in black, argued some more and then turned and headed again toward Liverpool.

As he did several times that morning, the first undercover detective called Lieutenant Napoli, and handed the cellphone to the second undercover detective as he then followed Mr. Bell and his friends. The first undercover detective then struck up a conversation with a woman in a blue top who had left the club, apparently feeling the situation was under control enough for him to seek out a prostitution arrest. But his partner told the lieutenant it was, according to the report, “getting hot on Liverpool, for real; I think there’s a gun.”

Mr. Bell got into the driver’s side of his 1999 Nissan, with Mr. Guzman next to him and Mr. Benefield in the rear passenger seat. The Nissan faced north on the east side of Liverpool Street, about 60 feet from 94th Avenue.

Still on his cellphone, Lieutenant Napoli made eye contact with one of the men in the Nissan as he passed, and then his undercover detective, who nodded in the direction of Mr. Bell’s car. This was the point when Lieutenant Napoli said he believed the men knew he was a police officer, though he did not give his rationale. Behind Lieutenant Napoli’s Camry was the minivan carrying Detective Oliver and Officer Carey.

What happened in the next few seconds, and how it occurred, remains unclear but for the outcome: 50 police bullets were fired. Mr. Bell was killed. Mr. Guzman was struck in the face, the shoulder, the buttocks, the thigh and the ankle. Mr. Benefield, hit in the leg and buttocks, scrambled out of the car and moved south on Liverpool Street, collapsing about half a block away. Lieutenant Napoli crouched for safety, approaching the Nissan after the final shots.

One civilian witness, according to the report, heard the shots while asleep — she thought there were 10 to 12 — and looked out her window. She saw one man pointing a handgun at a second man on Liverpool Street, saying “I will kill you,” according to the report. There were no more shots, and when the woman looked again, she saw one of the officers standing over Mr. Benefield.

A horde of police descended on the scene. They were met with adrenalin-filled confusion: Five officers had fired, but some were not even sure they had. There were conflicting reports about whether shields were displayed. And at least one of those who fired said he believed the men in the car, who turned out to be unarmed, were shooting at the police. Four of the men who fired clustered around Mr. Benefield. The fifth, Detective Cooper, was pointing his weapon at the men in the car, the report said.

Sergeant Wheeler, a patrol supervisor at the 103rd Precinct, was one of the first uniformed officers to arrive, having heard radio reports of gunshots and officers in danger.

According to the sergeant’s account, he called for an ambulance over his radio and then tried to open the driver’s side door of the Nissan, but could not. He directed another officer to put handcuffs on Mr. Guzman’s outstretched hands. The detective who had fired first, according to a person who has been briefed on his version, has said that he had his shield out, identified himself and ordered the men in the car to show their hands before he fired.

Police Officer Robert Maloney, who arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting, said he pulled Mr. Bell from the car and cuffed his bloody hands. He then escorted an ambulance that carried him to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and stayed with Mr. Bell until he was relieved. Mr. Bell, who was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m., never said a word, Officer Maloney said.

posted by Steve @ 12:39:00 AM

12:39:00 AM

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