More evidence has emerged that the New York police department lied about key aspects of the police shooting of Sean Bell in order to justify his killing.
Five undercover police officers fired 50 shots at a car carrying Bell, 23, and two of his friends shortly after they left his bachelor party in Queens on Nov. 25.
Bell was hit by four bullets and died hours before his wedding. His friend Joseph Guzman was hit 11 times and remains hospitalized. Trent Benefield, who is now in a wheelchair, was hit three times.
Shortly after the shooting, police handcuffed the three injured men even though Bell was close to dying. (Benefield and Guzman were later handcuffed to their hospital beds.)
When police searched the car no weapons were found but they did recover the wedding ring Bell was planning to give his fiancée later that day.
As protests grew over Bell’s death, police attempted to justify the shooting by claiming there was a fourth man who fled the car. In search of this mysterious man, police raided apartments in Queens and arrested several friends of Bell on charges unrelated to the shooting. As part of the dragnet, police arrested the son of Queens pastor Erskine Williams for not paying a $25 summons. Another friend of Bell’s was arrested shortly after attending a protest against Bell’s killing.
A law enforcement source told the Daily News that on the night of the shooting, police never sent out an alert to search for the fourth man. A police report obtained by the New York Times also did not mention the fourth man. Guzman and Benefield have maintained that no one else was in the car. The police have also said the shooting was justified because Bell attempted to run over a police officer and hit an undercover police vehicle.
But Benefield said Bell began driving erratically only after the shooting began in an effort to escape the barrage of bullets. Benefield said the officers never identified themselves.
According to the internal police report, the police lieutenant in charge of the officers said one of his undercover officers had made eye contact with Bell but the lieutenant couldn’t articulate why he believed that Bell knew they were officers. “We are fed up with empty apologies, slippery explanations and dumb excuses. It’s time for accountability at the top,” said Hazel Dukes, chairwoman of the state NAACP.
The shooting has also raised numerous questions over police racial profiling, the NYPD’s use of undercover special agents and the city’s policy allowing undercover officers to drink on the job (at least one of the officers had drank two Heinekens before the shooting).
According to internal NYPD figures, the number of shots fired by officers in incidents in which only the officers fired a weapon has increased by 40 percent since 2004.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board has reported receiving a record number of complaints this year about police misconduct – 3,888 complaints in the first six months, predominantly from African-Americans. Last year blacks filed 57 percent of the complaints – even though they represent less than a quarter of the city’s population. The police department’s handling of the case has also resulted in some of the city’s largest antipolice brutality protests since the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has called for protesters to march down Fifth Avenue from the Plaza Hotel to Herald Square on Saturday, Dec. 16.
“Business will not go on as usual until we get justice for Sean Bell,” Sharpton said.“We will be shopping for justice while people go shopping for the holidays.” Dec. 16 marks the fourth birthday of Jada, the oldest daughter of Sean Bell and his fiancée Nicole Paultre.