NEW YORK (PIX11)—It was one of the worst police shootings in New York City history, and on Wednesday two cops who shot Sean Bell on his wedding day made their final pleas to not receive maximum punishment.
A departmental trial, the NYPD internal equivalent of a court trial, concluded at Police Headquarters with the officers' attorneys making closing arguments for detectives Gescard Isnora and Michael Carey to keep their jobs. However, Sean Bell's widow, and the NYPD's own internal prosecutors, weren't buying it.
"To see some measure of justice taking place," Paultre Bell told PIX11 News about why she and her mother have been in the courtroom-like hearing room every day of the departmental hearing against Detectives Isnora and Carey. "Not only was my family hurt," Paultre Bell said, "but New York City was affected that tragic night."
Few who had been in the city five years ago can forget how undercover officers who had been carrying out a drug and prostitution investigation of the Club Kalua strip club where Sean Bell and his friends were having a bachelor party ended up shooting Bell and two of his friends. When the fusillade of bullets ended, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman had both suffered gunshot wounds, and Bell was dead.
At a criminal trial two years later, all five of the cops who had been charged with manslaughter in the case were acquitted. However, the NYPD has pursued internal charges against some of the officers. The detective who fired the most bullets that November morning, Michael Oliver, who shot 31 rounds, is arranging a retirement deal with the NYPD as his punishment for alleged NYPD infractions involving the Sean Bell shooting. However, Detective Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 times, faces the toughest scrutiny.
"He caused everything. He was the initial reason for the 50 shots," Nicole Paultre Bell said. "Because of his thoughts and his imagination, you have a man that was killed, two others riddled with bullets."
Her comments were echoed by the NYPD's own prosecutors in their closing arguments. They told Deputy Commissioner for Trials Martin G. Karopkin that Isnora overreacted in the early morning darkness when he thought someone in Sean Bell's car had a gun and was going to use it against police.
Specifically in the proceeding, the NYPD's attorney said Isnora, who was an undercover detective, seriously violated police procedure by revealing his identity at the scene after he erroneously suspected there was a gun in Bell's car. The prosecutor also said that if Isnora had followed procedure, remained incognito, and followed orders, he would have never put himself in a position in which he felt compelled to fire his gun.
The prosecutor attempted to leave an indelible impression on the deputy commissioner by depicting the detective's motivation with "an acronym for how Isnora was feeling: False Evidence Appearing Real He was feeling fear, " the prosecutor said on the record.
The other detective on trial, Michael Carey, fired three shots that fateful morning before dawn. Carey, who had never been prosecuted criminally in relation to the shooting, was offered a deal of losing ten days of vacation as departmental punishment for his involvement in the incident. However, because Carey insists that he did nothing wrong, he went to trial within the police department.
That departmental trial concluded Wednesday around 3:45 p.m. There is no fixed time as to what will happen next. Deputy Commissioner Karopkin will make a recommendation to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly as to what punishment, if any, to give to Detectives Isnora and Carey. The commissioner will then decide whether to accept the recommendation, or mete out a harsher or less severe punishment.
Even though Commissioner Kelly's decision is not likely to be challenged, the five year-old wrongful death case could continue, according to Sanford Rubenstein, Nicole Paultre Bell's attorney. "It's possible that [Kelly's ruling] could be subjected to a court review," Rubenstein told PIX11 News. "Theoretically, the decision of the police commissioner can be overruled by a Supreme Court hearing" if Isnora's and Carey's attorneys feel Commissioner Kelly's ruling is unfair.