Mayor Lends Ear as Verdict Nears in Bell Shooting

A subdued Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, working to avoid flaring tensions as a verdict approaches in the trial of three police officers charged in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell, took a message of open communication and neighborly cooperation on Wednesday to the area of Queens where Mr. Bell died.

April 24, 2008

Club With a Past Survives, Even Without Any Liquor

Club With a Past Survives, Even Without Any Liquor

Nothing, it seems, can bring down the Club Kalua, which has survived repeated attempts by the city to close it. It has even survived the notoriety of the Sean Bell shooting.

April 24, 2008

Acquittal Would Not End Officers’ Legal Peril in Queens Shooting

The officers, their lawyers and courtroom onlookers in the Sean Bell case are sifting through the varying outcomes of similar cases in the past as they seek hints of what the future may hold.

April 18, 2008

In Angry Closings, Trial of 3 Queens Detectives Goes to Judge for Verdict
The trial of three police detectives charged in the shooting of Sean Bell ended on Monday with one of the most fractious days in seven weeks in the courtroom.

April 15, 2008

With Trial Near End, Sean Bell’s Fiancée Envisions the Day He Died
Nicole Paultre-Bell, a daily presence in the courtroom, has said that the trial sharpened her mental images of the morning her fiancée was shot: “I close my eyes and I see it happen.”

April 13, 2008

No Surprises at Court in Bell Case, but Hints of What’s to Come
Both sides in the trial of three police detectives accused in the shooting death of Sean Bell offered glimpses at elements of their closing arguments on Thursday, with defense lawyers unsuccessfully urging the judge to throw out several of the charges before he begins his deliberations next week.

April 11, 2008

Final Defense Witnesses Testify in Sean Bell Case
Testimony concluded in the Sean Bell case with the last of the six defense witnesses taking the stand, and both sides preparing to deliver closing arguments next week.

April 9, 2008

After 50 Witnesses in Trial Over Police Killing, Still No Clear View of 50 Shots

Two critical questions remain: Whether detectives identified themselves as officers, and if they had reason to believe Sean Bell and his friends had guns.

April 5, 2008

Three Men Who Had No Reason to Run

The men in the car with Sean Bell had no gun, no drugs and none of them had any outstanding warrants.

April 5, 2008

Officer Says Police Warned Bell Before Shots

Detective Gescard F. Isnora shouted, “Police! Show your hands! Show your hands!” as he approached Sean Bell’s car with his gun drawn, the first defense witness in the case testified.

April 4, 2008

On Stand in Officers’ Trial, Surgeon Details Injuries to Passenger in Sean Bell’s Car

The subject at the Sean Bell death trial Wednesday was Joseph Guzman, who sustained 19 gunshot wounds and lived to tell about it.

April 3, 2008

Queens Club Loses License to Sell Alcohol

Club Kaluha, the bar in Queens where Sean Bell celebrated his bachelor party the night that he was killed, lost its liquor license on Wednesday

April 3, 2008

One Bullet Can Kill, but Sometimes 20 Don’t, Survivors Show

While surviving numerous gunshots could be a miraculous feat, doctors who have treated gunshot victims say that being shot is not automatically a death sentence.

April 3, 2008

But each tube, called a police trajectory rod in court testimony on Monday, represents a police bullet that tore through the doors and shattered windows of Sean Bell’s car in a barrage that killed him and wounded two friends, and the rods described, perhaps better than words, the violent and painful final seconds of Mr. Bell’s life.

The pictures, admitted as evidence in the trial in State Supreme Court in Queens, track the paths of the 20 bullets that pierced Mr. Bell’s Nissan Altima on Nov. 25, 2006, on Liverpool Street in Jamaica, Queens, when police officers fired 50 rounds at the car. Three of the detectives, Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, who together fired 46 rounds, have been charged in the killing, and have said they believed that Mr. Bell or his friends were armed and intended to shoot someone in the moments to come.

Mr. Bell was struck four times, and his front-seat passenger, Joseph Guzman, was wounded 19 times, including exit wounds. A third friend in the back seat, Trent Benefield, was wounded by two gunshots to the legs.

The trial began its fourth week on Monday before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury.

In other testimony, which seemed to bolster the detectives’ case, the director of the Police Department’s crime laboratory, Dr. Peter Pizzola, testified that Mr. Bell drove his car into Detective Isnora’s leg hard enough to leave a faint mark from the detective’s denim jeans on the bumper of Mr. Bell’s Altima.

The defense has said that Mr. Bell, whose autopsy showed that his blood alcohol level was at least twice the legal limit, ignored Detective Isnora’s commands to halt, hitting his leg, an unmarked police van, a wall and the van a second time. This has been the police version of events since hours after the shooting.

The defense, however, has said that some prosecution witnesses who testified before a grand jury last year referred to only one impact by Mr. Bell’s car — hitting the van once — suggesting less provocation for the shooting.

Scientific police evidence presented on Monday, including paint samples removed from vehicle bumpers, seemed to back up the three-crash version. Defense lawyers further sought to emphasize how hard Mr. Bell’s car hit the detective. The type of impression left on the bumper would require heat, Dr. Pizzola said. “It would be more than casual contact,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Charles A. Testagrossa, during his questioning, likened the injury to “falling and sliding on a gym floor.”

An examination of the trajectory rods further reminded spectators how close Mr. Guzman, the front-seat passenger, came to death. One bullet pierced his headrest, and another, probably slowed by the impact with the door, was found lodged in the collar of his jacket.

The rounds that struck Mr. Bell were also marked by the rods. He was hit four times, and two of the bullets caused fatal injuries, prosecutors have said. One entered the right side of his neck, passed through the soft tissue and the larynx, and lodged in his left shoulder. The other entered Mr. Bell’s torso, passed through his liver, diaphragm and right lung, and lodged in his spinal column.

Another police study of the shooting that was described on Monday included a series of computer diagrams tracing every bullet’s path to the Altima. But several of the diagrams, with unusual trajectory angles, seemed to suggest that the detective firing the shots was lying on the ground and shooting up at the car, or shooting down from more than 10 feet in the air.

On cross-examination, the detective who made the diagrams, Edward Dingman, said he did not take into account the curvature of the road and other factors.



A crime-scene photo entered into evidence illustrates where bullets struck the Nissan Altima.

Published: March 15, 2008
Fourteen minutes past 4 on a chilly November morning, a Nissan Altima in Queens stopped being simply an automobile that Sean Bell had borrowed from his fiancée for his bachelor party. Depending on who is describing it, the Altima became at that moment a threat, a weapon or a means of escape.
A day after the shooting, a bullet was found in the front seat, where Sean Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman had been sitting.
A day after the shooting, a bullet was found in the front seat.


Pool photo by Ellis Kaplan

Detective Charles Reiss before his testimony on Friday.

And so the Altima has become a character itself in the trial of three detectives charged in the killing of Mr. Bell, and attention returned to it on Friday in State Supreme Court in Queens, with a crime-scene detective describing every dent and bullet hole from the 50 shots fired at it that morning. The more time spent describing the car, the more questions are raised, however minute.

There is no dispute that the police shot and killed Mr. Bell and wounded his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, on Liverpool Street on Nov. 25, 2006, after the three men and others had left an exotic dance club around the corner on 94th Avenue in Jamaica.

The police have said that Detective Gescard F. Isnora, who had been working undercover inside the club, followed Mr. Bell’s group to the Altima, believing they were armed, and ordered them to halt. The police have said Mr. Bell drove forward, striking Detective Isnora in the leg, and then hit an unmarked police van. The car backed into a metal gate, then went forward again into the van. No gun was found.

Detective Isnora and Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 42 times between them, are charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, faces two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment. Two other officers who fired a total of four shots were not charged.

Much of the trial’s testimony has focused on Mr. Bell’s driving, the number of times the Altima hit a police van, and the trajectory of the bullets that struck it.

Most witnesses support the detectives’ account of the Altima hitting the van twice and the gate once. Defense lawyers took pains on Friday to extract descriptions of the damage from the day’s lone witness, Detective Charles Reiss, a crime scene investigator. The damage to the car seems to bolster the detectives’ recollection of Mr. Bell’s driving, and discredit an earlier prosecution witness, who said Mr. Bell started his car and struck the van only once before the police opened fire.

Most of the bullets hit the door on the front passenger side, where Mr. Guzman was sitting. Prosecutors said he was wounded 19 times, and the seat beneath him was later photographed covered with blood.

The defense is expected to argue that contrary to the prosecution’s depiction of the shooting as reckless and wild, the detectives were actually quite precise in their aim and selection of a target, Mr. Guzman, who they believed was reaching for a gun in his waistband.

According to investigators, the Altima appears to have been struck by 20 bullets; 17 of those struck the passenger side, and 13 of those hit the front door. A 21st bullet hole in the rear driver’s side door is believed to have been caused by an exiting bullet. One bullet struck the trunk, and two others, the windshield. Other bullets hit up and down Liverpool Street, striking nearby parked cars, fences, a living-room window and an elevated AirTrain terminal.

The question of whether the police mishandled the car during the investigation returned to the forefront on Friday. It is conventional wisdom that defense lawyers have nothing to lose by criticizing the handling of physical evidence, and in this case, the defense has said such “cross-contamination” may have led to, among other things, one victim’s blood coming in contact with Detective Isnora’s pistol.

But neither the prosecution nor the defense has seemed to portray the condition of the Altima in a way that either makes or breaks its respective case before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Detective Reiss was one of the final crime scene investigators to comb through the Altima, the day after the shooting, at a police garage in the 107th Precinct. He found that detectives had apparently placed a broken bumper and a spare tire cover inside the car when transporting it from Liverpool Street. He also found two bullets in the car, one on the passenger seat, that had apparently been overlooked.

“It’s not supposed to happen that way, right?” asked James J. Culleton, who represents Detective Oliver.

“No,” Detective Reiss answered.

“But it did in this case?” Mr. Culleton asked.

“Apparently so,” the detective replied.

John Eligon contributed reporting.*****************************************************************************************


Published: March 14, 2008
A crime scene investigator testified on Thursday that blood was found on the pistol of the detective who fired first at Sean Bell. But defense lawyers were expected to say that the blood did not mean the detective was much closer than originally thought when he shot at the men in Mr. Bell’s car.The defense lawyers were expected to say that the detective, Gescard F. Isnora, got the blood on the pistol, a Glock, after the gunfire had stopped, perhaps while arresting one of the two men injured in the shooting that killed Mr. Bell.DNA evidence identifying whose blood was on Detective Isnora’s Glock was not presented on Thursday.The testimony came on the 11th day of the trial of Detective Isnora and two other detectives, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, in the killing of Mr. Bell on Nov. 25, 2006, outside an exotic dance club in Jamaica, Queens. Mr. Bell was to have been married that day.

The defense lawyers have said that the detectives opened fire after Mr. Bell and the two passengers in his Nissan Altima, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, ignored Detective Isnora’s order to stop and show their hands, and that Mr. Bell’s car struck the detective in the leg before twice ramming into an unmarked police van.

Five officers fired 50 shots, killing Mr. Bell and wounding the other two men. No charges were brought against two of the officers.

After the testimony about the blood found on the Glock, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended the trial on Thursday morning in State Supreme Court in Queens, speculated that it could have been blood splattered from the inside of the car, which would suggest that Detective Isnora was standing closer than several feet away, as the police have indicated.

“That means they were right over them,” Mr. Sharpton said. “This morning was stunning because that totally flips what they were saying.”

But DNA evidence is expected to show that the blood was Mr. Benefield’s, and that the stain on the gun appeared during Mr. Benefield’s arrest or during the collection of evidence, according to a person who was briefed on the case and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Sharpton and Michael Hardy, a lawyer representing Mr. Bell’s fiancée, also said that in a picture of Detective Isnora taken that day, the police badge he wore pinned to his collar was difficult to see, suggesting Mr. Bell did not see the badge.

The picture shows the detective only from the neck down, standard practice when the police photograph an undercover officer, said Detective Chris Florio, who took the picture.

Detective Florio photographed all five officers who fired, as is usual in documenting police shootings.

All were in plain clothes, in blue jeans and sweatshirts or jackets.

There has been no testimony about gunpowder residue on the victim’s clothing, which could be expected after a shooting at close range.

In other testimony, Robert Hernandez, 26, who lived nearby, testified that he was awake at the time of the shooting and heard what sounded like two men shouting before a single gunshot, followed a second later by a barrage.

The shouting was unintelligible to him, and he never heard anyone identify themselves as the police, he said. Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield have said that they never knew the men shooting at them were the police.

Mr. Hernandez also described a man standing on the southern end of Liverpool Street and pointing a gun toward Mr. Bell’s car. The man’s location, as described by Mr. Hernandez, was puzzling, as it is half a block or more away from any of the officers involved in the shooting.

Defense lawyers, on cross-examination, asked Mr. Hernandez if he recognized any of the officers on trial as being the man he had seen, and he said no. But the defense lawyers stopped short of suggesting that a fourth man, who was armed, was present with Mr. Bell, a suspicion of the police in the days after the shooting that has never been confirmed.

Maria Rodrigues, another resident, said she awoke to popping noises and called out to her two children in separate rooms to make sure they were all right.

“We were in shock,” she said. “We did not move until the police pounded on the door.”

A bullet had broken her living room window and lodged in a lampshade.

Another neighbor, Bernardino Dossantos, 45, a construction worker, recalled being awakened by his panicked wife that morning in their home on 95th Avenue, around the corner from the shooting on Liverpool Street, and hearing 8 to 10 gunshots.

He later found two marks on his sport utility vehicle where bullets had struck, he said.

He drew laughter from the courtroom when he was asked if he noticed bullet holes in a nearby fence, and he said no.

“It’s not my house,” he said, wearing work clothes from his job on a concrete crew at the new stadium for the New York Yankees in the Bronx. “I’m a renter.”

John Eligon contributed reporting.



Published: March 12, 2008
Prosecutors displayed photographs on Tuesday of an injury sustained by one of the three detectives on trial in the killing of Sean Bell. The injury occurred when Mr. Bell’s car struck him before officers began a 50-shot barrage, the police said.The injury, to the shin of Detective Gescard F. Isnora, has been repeatedly raised as among the provocations that led officers to believe they were in danger and to open fire on Mr. Bell and his friends. But photographs of the injury had not been made public until Tuesday at the trial at State Supreme Court in Queens.In the photographs, a purple bruise one or two inches long is visible below Detective Isnora’s right knee. In opening statements made on Feb. 25, prosecutors dismissed the injury as an abrasion — “not a broken bone” — when he was “clipped” by the front bumper of Mr. Bell’s Nissan Altima early on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006. Defense lawyers have said Detective Isnora, the first to fire his gun, leapt away to avoid a more serious injury.The police have said that Mr. Bell went on to ram his vehicle into an unmarked van carrying officers, then backed his car into a building, and then hit the van again, coming to a stop against its front end.Mr. Bell was killed in the shooting, which occurred near a strip club in Queens hours before he was to be married, and two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were wounded.

Detectives Isnora and Michael Oliver are on trial for manslaughter before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Detective Marc Cooper has been charged with two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment. One of the four rounds he fired struck an AirTrain terminal about one block away, and that particular gunshot was further examined in testimony Tuesday.

Indeed, from the witness stand, it was a day of blood and bullets. The most graphic images were photographs of the victims’ clothes, which had been laid out on brown paper in a parking lot behind a crime laboratory, Detective Greg Anzalone testified. Mr. Bell’s shirt had been cut off of him by paramedics trying to revive him. His boxer shorts were stained with blood, and the photograph of them, blown up on an overhead screen, drew gasps from his relatives.

But perhaps more startling were the photographs of Mr. Guzman’s clothes. Prosecutors said he was shot 19 times, and the blood-soaked clothes show it, his T-shirt almost more red than white.

A thermal vest he was wearing seems to have stopped a bullet that was found in the material of the neck padding. Defense lawyers are expected to suggest the bullet was a ricochet, and was traveling slowly when it hit the vest, as opposed to a direct shot.

Bullet casings were found in the van, from the floorboards to the engine, where they had bounced under the hood, and atop a windshield wiper blade, photographs released into evidence on Tuesday showed. Detective Oliver, who had been driving the van before he stepped out, fired 31 of the 50 shots.

Other testimony on Tuesday focused on the bullet that struck the AirTrain terminal near 94th Avenue. A surveillance video of the shooting has been played on news stations, and that particular bullet became emblematic of the perception that the shooting was wild and chaotic.

Surveillance video placed into evidence on Tuesday showed two Port Authority police officers talking when a nearby window partially exploded, sending the officers sprinting away. It also showed shocked civilians standing there, confused. After the officers, John Cea and Brian Donnelly, found cover near a wall, they shouted for the civilians to lower themselves toward the floor, the officers testified.

“I remember hearing a pop and then a short time after, more shots in very rapid succession, and then the window of the AirTrain platform blew out,” Officer Cea testified. “I was sprayed by some of the glass that had been shattered by the bullet.”

Neither officer drew his gun, which prosecutors sought to represent as a show of restraint.

Charles A. Testagrossa, an assistant district attorney, asked Officer Donnelly, “Your reaction was to take cover, is that correct?” On cross-examination, defense lawyers emphasized the distance between the officers and the gunfire.

John Eligon contributed reporting.****************************************************************************************************** 


Published: March 11, 2008
Lawyers for three detectives on trial in Queens in the killing of Sean Bell in 2006 will try to link small bags of marijuana found near the shooting site to one of Mr. Bell’s friends who was wounded and who fled a short distance, perhaps tossing the drugs as he ran.The wounded friend, Trent Benefield, ran from the back seat of Mr. Bell’s Nissan Altima as the police fired 50 rounds at the car in the belief that someone inside was armed and shooting back, the police have said. Mr. Benefield was stopped on a sidewalk of Liverpool Street, a short distance from the shooting near the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens.The defense is expected to argue that if Mr. Benefield threw the marijuana away, it suggests that he knew the people shooting at them were police officers. Mr. Benefield has told investigators and a grand jury that the police never identified themselves before firing, and that he did not know who the gunmen were. He is expected to testify in the trial.No fingerprints were found on the bags, which contained a small amount of marijuana and were in a puddle when they were found, prosecutors said. The results of DNA tests on the evidence were not revealed in court on Monday. In response to a reporter’s question, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, which conducts such tests, said it would release laboratory results only to investigators.The testimony came on the ninth day of the trial of Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, charged in the killing of Mr. Bell on Nov. 25, 2006. Mr. Benefield and another man in the car, Joseph Guzman, were wounded. The detectives waived their right to a jury trial, and Justice Arthur J. Cooperman is hearing the testimony.

Outside court, Michael J. Palladino, the president of the union that represents the detectives, said that if the marijuana belonged to Mr. Benefield, “then it’s indicative of the fact that he knew” that those firing were the police. He added, “If you’re running from anybody else, or you were running from carjackers, you wouldn’t be concerned with throwing your marijuana.”

Monday’s testimony came from a single witness, David Rivera, a retired detective who worked as a crime scene investigator at the shooting site. Most of his testimony came during a long cross-examination in which defense lawyers sought to show that the crime scene investigation was botched and incomplete.

A defense lawyer, James J. Culleton, zeroed in on items that seemed to have been largely ignored during the investigation, like little piles of broken glass from Mr. Bell’s Altima, or dents in the bumpers, as if repeatedly pointing out, in so many words, that the former detective had missed a spot.

While the questioning was at times vigorous and included flashes of combativeness, much of it involved minutiae that would appear unlikely to swing the case either way.

Mr. Culleton suggested that the bullet paths Mr. Rivera created, using trajectory rods and laser beams, were inaccurate, and ignored some ricochets. The trajectory rods — short rods stuck into bullet holes to show the path of the bullets — pointed outward from the passenger side of Mr. Bell’s car like pins from a pincushion.

But under cross-examination, Mr. Rivera said that none of the rods were fitted with a small piece called a centering cone, which stabilizes each rod properly, because he had not taken enough of those pieces with him to the crime scene.

Asked why, he said, “Sir, I had no idea of the magnitude of this case.”

As to other elements of the investigation, Mr. Rivera said that he did not closely inspect the bumpers of Mr. Bell’s Altima or the police van, and that his investigation did not include recreating the Altima’s path in the moments before it came to a stop. The police and the defense team have said that the Altima first struck Detective Isnora in the leg, then hit the van, backed up and hit a rolled-down gate, and charged forward again, hitting the van and stopping.

But Mr. Rivera said he was concerned only with the last collision. “There was only one accident, as far as I understand,” he said.

Mr. Culleton also said Mr. Rivera’s notes and diagrams of Liverpool Street included erroneous measurements of the locations of evidence and vehicles in relation to curbsides. Mr. Rivera replied, “I think it’s a matter of perspective.” When the lawyer asked him if anyone would be able to make sense of the notes in 10 years, he said, “I wouldn’t know.”

Justice Cooperman seemed at times to be unimpressed with the questioning, and at one point prodded Mr. Culleton to move forward. “I think we’ve exhausted this,” the judge said. Later, he said a prosecutor’s questions were “beating a dead horse.”



Published: March 10, 2008
There have been times in the Sean Bell trial when lawyers, out of sheer habit, have asked a witness to please “tell the jury” this or that, but the seats in the jury box sit empty. Missing are those 12 precious yet unscientific instruments that display the impact of any particular moment of testimony: the faces of the jurors.Those faces tell a lawyer how the opening argument is going over, or how a witness’s sobs are playing. A juror’s giggles or furrowed brow or gaping yawn or snores or tears are each like little gauges on a dashboard, clicks on a Geiger counter.But there is only one face to watch in the trial of three detectives charged in Mr. Bell’s shooting death on Nov. 25, 2006, outside an exotic dance club in Jamaica, Queens. It is being heard without a jury, at the detectives’ request, in State Supreme Court by Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, a man whose reaction to the trial’s most powerful testimony has been only slightly more animated than those empty chairs.Lean and bespectacled, the 74-year-old judge has seemed to wear one of two facial expressions during most of the past two weeks of testimony. Face No. 1, seen most often, is best described as attentive but unfeeling, even cold, like a psychiatrist in an old movie listening to a patient on the couch. The best guess at what he is thinking is: Indeed. Do continue.The second face generally follows the ring of somebody’s cellphone in the gallery or an interruption in the case because of a technical difficulty, like a crashing computer. The judge is unfailingly punctual, often beginning the day’s proceedings a minute or two early. His reaction to delays could be described as a frown of deep irritation, accompanied at times by a brisk rubbing together of the hands.

It was impossible to know, then, what the judge was thinking as he listened to Mr. Bell’s fiancée or his father speak with deep emotion in the opening days of the trial, just as it was unclear how much weight he gave the testimony of a woman who called herself the “second-best pole dancer in the city.” And when people in the audience laugh, the judge’s second face stares back with a silent warning.

He is perfectly amicable in person, with an easy enough smile. But so consistent is his court face that four different sketch artists covering the case all seem to assign the same scowl to Justice Cooperman. Sometimes, for variety, one will draw a hand over his chin, as if in thought.

Of course, fellow jurists would say that this is as it should be, that it is not a judge’s place to overly emote during a trial.

His admirers have described his dry sense of humor, and flashes of that have peeked through in court. When a prosecutor suggested recessing early for the day, and said it was because he had no more witnesses available to call, the judge said, “I guess we have to.”

When a computer failed to play a detective’s call to 911 last week, several lawyers stood impotently before the machine until a young man in shirt sleeves entered from a rear door, clearly a technical sort.

The judge brightened, and announced, “Help is on the way.” And unlike the lawyers and witnesses and reporters and onlookers in the case, Justice Cooperman was rewarded with a reaction. People laughed.

A Mysterious Grin

One grin that did not go unnoticed was the one described on Mr. Bell’s face during a conversation or argument — depending on who is describing the exchange — with a man dressed in black and standing near a sport utility vehicle outside the Club Kalua, which Mr. Bell was visiting just before he was killed.

The facial expression was described on the third day of testimony by Hugh Jensen, 31, one of several of Mr. Bell’s friends who joined him to celebrate on the night before Mr. Bell’s wedding. After 3:30 the next morning, they left the club, and Mr. Jensen stood several feet away and began talking with a woman and trying to get her telephone number. He noticed Mr. Bell in a “verbal altercation” with the man in black, and he caught a glimpse of his friend’s face.

Mr. Bell was wearing “a sarcastic grin,” he said.

Mr. Bell and his friends walked away. Defense lawyers have argued that there were threats of gunplay in the exchange, and sought to make something more of the sarcastic grin, while Mr. Jensen tried to play it down. They debated the grin the way people argue about the Mona Lisa.

On cross-examination from one defense lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, Mr. Jensen was reminded of his testimony before a grand jury last year, when he said: “It wasn’t a smile. It was, ‘Yo, dude, you don’t know what you’re getting into.’ ”

In court, Mr. Jensen tried to explain what he meant: “It’s not really a smile; it’s more like an angry guy. ‘What’s this dude getting into?’ That type of smile.”

A Mother’s Notes

Behind the rows occupied mostly by reporters and sketch artists, supporters of Mr. Bell’s family, often numbering in the dozens, fill several benches in the courtroom. Most of the supporters stare forward and listen attentively, but among them sits one woman who has spent much of the trial looking down at a ruled notebook with a black cover, in which she scribbles copious notes.

She is not a reporter, but Valerie Bell, Mr. Bell’s mother. She seems at times to be writing everything a witness says, in narrow rows in the notebook the size of a paperback. On Thursday, when courtroom screens displayed pictures of blood on the seats of her son’s car, she looked down, writing.

Asked what she was writing last week, Mrs. Bell, 52, replied, “I’m keeping an account.”

Every now and then, without warning, a witness on the stand will refer to the man slumped in the Nissan Altima’s driver’s seat after the shooting, describing his appearance or the frenzied attempts to revive him. At these moments, Mrs. Bell very often drops her notebook and rises. Her husband, William Bell, usually listening with a cold stare, shifts his knees out of the way to let her pass, and she hurries out of the row and out of the courtroom.



Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

The defendants in the Sean Bell shooting trial, from left, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver, near the courthouse in Kew Gardens, Queens, on Thursday.

Published: March 7, 2008
After eight days of testimony in the Sean Bell trial, some onlookers have asked a variation on the old saw about friends and enemies: With prosecution witnesses like these, who needs a defense?Several witnesses called by the Queens district attorney’s office, including Mr. Bell’s childhood friends, have provided testimony that seemed to better serve the three detectives charged in his killing on Nov. 25, 2006, near a strip club in Jamaica.For example, a key to the detectives’ case is establishing their belief that Mr. Bell or his friends were armed that night. The prosecution has said Mr. Bell was shot without justification. But Mr. Bell’s friends, testifying for the prosecution, have said they believed a man arguing with Mr. Bell outside the Club Kalua that morning had a gun. And officers have said that one of Mr. Bell’s friends said, “Get my gun.”But in a way, these seeming defense victories appear to be the cost of doing business in a prosecution strategy that says more is more. Prosecutors seem less concerned with landing traditional body blows and rather intend to methodically present to the court every scrap of evidence that has surfaced in the 15 months since the shooting.“The whole world’s looking at this case,” said John Patten, a lawyer who represented one of the officers charged with shooting Amadou Diallo in 1999. “I gather what they’re thinking is, ‘Let’s just air it all out.’ There can be no claims anything has been kept back or hidden. They’re in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t position. They’re taking the only tack they can take.”

Others agreed that the case more closely resembled a public hearing of sorts than a traditional criminal trial.

“They’re simply bringing forth all the information they have and laying it before the judge without putting as much advocacy behind it as you would expect,” said one trial observer who has been briefed on the defense case, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’s no fire in the belly. It’s just like: ‘Here it is. Whatever you want to do with it, great.’ ”

The trial of the three detectives, Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, is being heard by Justice Arthur J. Cooperman in State Supreme Court in Queens. The defendants waived a jury trial.

Testimony continued on Thursday with a detective, David Rivera, who has since retired. He described at length his handling of evidence at the scene of the shooting, on Liverpool Street, around the corner from the Club Kalua.

More than 100 photographs — of the bloodstained and bullet-riddled interior of Mr. Bell’s car and the shattered windows of cars parked as far as half a block away — were submitted into evidence. One bullet entered a nearby living room window and pierced a white lampshade. More testimony about forensic evidence is expected in the days ahead.

The Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, declined to comment on the trial’s progress. But it seems clear that the prosecution’s case is in a valley between high-profile witnesses. The trial began with testimony from Mr. Bell’s fiancée, his father, an exotic dancer who said she saw the police open fire and the commanding officer of the undercover team at the club to make prostitution or drug arrests.

Other major witnesses — including other officers who fired but were not charged and two of Mr. Bell’s friends who were wounded in the shooting, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman — have yet to be called, and may not testify for weeks.

“A lot of testimony up to now has not been those crucial witnesses,” Mr. Patten said. “The crucial testimony is coming.”

Some prosecution testimony that has seemed to most aid the defense has involved the argument between Mr. Bell and a man dressed in black who was standing near a sport utility vehicle outside the Club Kalua.

Detective Isnora told a grand jury that he heard Mr. Guzman say, “Get my gun,” before he, Mr. Bell and others walked away toward Mr. Bell’s car. The prosecution contends that the argument was nothing more than words exchanged in passing, without threats or mention of guns, and that the words ended when everyone realized they were all from the same part of Queens: Far Rockaway.

“Not a single blow was thrown,” Assistant District Attorney Charles A. Testagrossa said in opening statements on Feb. 25, “and no gun was displayed.” 

But after testifying that it was a benign exchange, Hugh Jensen, one of Mr. Bell’s friends who witnessed the argument from several feet away, admitted on cross-examination that when he saw the man in black put his hands in his pockets, he believed the man was armed. Another friend, Larenzo Kinred, told investigators that he believed the man was armed or pretending to be armed, according to testimony.

The prosecution’s strategy seems to incorporate the courtroom school of thought that it is better to call potentially unhelpful witnesses yourself rather than give the defense a chance to parade them later.

“One of the fundamental strategies of trial work is to defuse the things that are going to hurt you,” said the person briefed on the case. “You also take away that ‘aha’ moment for the defense by doing that.”

Not all of the testimony has helped the detectives, and some of what has appeared to hurt them has come from their own fellow officers.

For example, several officers, including those who spoke to the detectives after the shooting and took their guns as evidence, have said they do not remember whether the officers were wearing their badges. A key to the case is whether Mr. Bell and his friends knew that Detective Isnora was a police officer and whether he ordered them to stop before Mr. Bell drove into his leg and into a van carrying other officers.

Also, the detectives’ commanding officer, Lt. Gary Napoli, delivered what appeared to be a blow to the defense when he said he heard no shouts of “police” before the shooting began.

But Lieutenant Napoli was in a car several feet away, facing in the opposite direction and leaning down to reach a police dome light when the shouts would have occurred, inclining Mr. Patten to dismiss the significance of what he heard. “The lieutenant wasn’t in a position to hear what was said,” he said. “The officers have not been damaged by any of that at this point.”

Another moment in the courtroom was more curious. Detective Isnora’s partner that night, Detective Hispolito Sanchez, testified that moments before the shooting, he heard unintelligible shouts from that area on Liverpool Street. It was only on cross-examination that he admitted he told grand jurors last year that he heard shouts and “commands,” which could help his old partner.

“Why do we have to drag that out?” said the observer briefed on the defense case, days later. “Why don’t you say that freely? It’s odd. It’s not like the guy didn’t review the grand jury testimony before he testified.”

John Eligon contributed reporting.**********************************************************************************************


Published: March 6, 2008
Sean Bell’s mother, Valerie Bell, spent her 52nd birthday in the third row of a chilly courtroom in Queens on Wednesday and watched in silence as a police sergeant held aloft the gun that is believed to have killed her son.
Pool photo by Willie Anderson

The five police handguns that fired 50 bullets at a car outside a Queens nightclub on Nov. 25, 2006, killing Sean Bell.

The sergeant, Donald Kipp, held a plastic bag containing the sidearm once assigned to Detective Michael Oliver, a defendant in the killing of Mr. Bell. That gun fired 31 bullets the morning of Nov. 25, 2006, first the 16 bullets that the gun holds followed by the 15 bullets in the new magazine that Detective Oliver loaded and emptied.

Among the 31 bullets are believed to be the two bullets that fatally injured Mr. Bell on what was to be his wedding day. Sergeant Kipp’s duty later on the morning of the shooting was to collect the weapons that had been fired, including Detective Oliver’s.

“I asked him if he fired, and he said yes,” he testified in State Supreme Court in Queens on Wednesday. “He handed me the firearm and two magazines. They were both empty.” In previous testimony, a lieutenant said that Detective Oliver had said he did not remember whether he had fired.

The testimony came on a day that police officers took the witness stand to describe their jobs in the hours after the shooting: securing the scene with yellow tape and evidence markers and searching for evidence. The day added none of the harrowing eyewitness testimony that Mrs. Bell and others have heard, from Mr. Bell’s friends and from police officers who were at or near the scene of the shooting.

But the exhibits themselves were striking. The evidence submitted thus far has mostly been stacks of diagrams and photographs. The guns made solid thumps when placed on an evidence table on Wednesday.

Detective Oliver’s co-defendants, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora and Marc Cooper, fired 11 and 4 rounds apiece, respectively. Two other officers — Michael Carey, who fired three shots, and Detective Paul Headley, who fired once — were not charged.

The shooting followed a confrontation at Mr. Bell’s parked car on Liverpool Street between Detective Isnora and three men in Mr. Bell’s parked car, Mr. Bell and his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield. Detective Isnora has told investigators that he believed the men were armed. Mr. Bell struck him in the leg with his car and twice hit an unmarked police van. At some point, the officers opened fire with their 50 rounds. It is unclear exactly where Mr. Bell’s car was at the start of the shooting.

Detective Oliver fired a Sig Sauer, as did Officer Carey. Detectives Isnora and Cooper used Glocks, and Detective Headley, a Smith & Wesson. All of the officers fired semiautomatic pistols.

Officer Robert Maloney testified that at least one of the undercover officers had his badge out when he arrived, although he arrived there moments after the shooting had stopped, theoretically allowing the officer to pull the badge out. Whether the officers involved in the shooting had identified themselves in the frantic seconds before the shots rang out is one of the central questions of the trial.

Lawyers presented the ballistic evidence before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury, at the defendants’ request. Officers described the clothing cut off Mr. Bell’s body at the scene and at a hospital, his watch and earring and the cash in his pockets and cards in his wallet.

But the police found nothing in one place that they searched thoroughly: Mr. Bell’s car, where officers had thought there was a gun. Detective Ellen Friedman, a police expert in what she described as “hidden compartments, hides and traps,” searched the car and pried open interior panels, finding nothing.

Officer Maloney said that when he arrived at the scene of the shooting, one of the officers told him there were “two perps shot,” standard police jargon for suspects. Outside the courtroom, Michael Hardy, a lawyer for Mr. Bell’s fiancée, criticized that characterization.

The word “perps” “affects the mind of every officer” who arrived at the scene that morning, Mr. Hardy said, adding, “They were innocent men.”

On her birthday on Wednesday, Mrs. Bell attended a noontime prayer vigil outside the courthouse on Queens Boulevard. Two members of the National Action Network surprised her with a large round cake with vanilla frosting and buttercream filling. The cake read, “Happy Birthday Mama Bell.” She said she planned to spend Wednesday night with her grandchildren.

Past Coverage



Pool photo by Willie Anderson

Hispolito Sanchez, right, arrived in court on Tuesday to testify in the trial of three detectives over a Queens killing in 2006.

Published: March 5, 2008
Correction AppendedA Queens courtroom listened with rapt attention on Tuesday as a seemingly confused undercover detective shouted, “There were shots fired!” to a 911 operator in the frantic seconds after Sean Bell was shot outside a Jamaica strip club.

The recording of the 911 call from the detective, Hispolito Sanchez — who was hiding in a dark doorway — captures him struggling to pinpoint his own location amid the chaos shortly after the 4 a.m. shooting on Nov. 25, 2006.

What Detective Sanchez had heard, but had not seen, were the 50 police gunshots that killed Mr. Bell and wounded two of his friends, near the Club Kalua. Three detectives, Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, have been charged in the killing, and are on trial in State Supreme Court in Queens.

Detective Sanchez was testifying for the prosecution, but his recollection of some of the sticking points in the case, like the nature of the shouts and how long the shooting lasted, seemed to bolster the detectives’ case.

Detective Sanchez first seemed to testify on Tuesday morning that the shooting lasted two minutes, far longer than other witnesses, police or civilian, have said. But on cross-examination, he said that he was referring to the time beginning moments before the gunshots and ending with his own call to 911, all of which he said took about two minutes. He said the shooting itself lasted only about six seconds, with no real pause in the firing.

Accounts of a brief period of gunfire without pauses is consistent with the defense claims that the officers believed they were being fired upon from someone in Mr. Bell’s car, and that by the time they realized that they were not, the shooting was over.

A defense lawyer, James J. Culleton, asked, “The intensity of the gunfire at times seemed to diminish, but there was always gunfire?”

“Yes, sir,” the detective answered.

In other testimony on Tuesday, the first superior to question the officers after the shooting, Lt. Michael Wheeler, said that none of them knew how many rounds they had fired and that Detective Oliver, who had fired 31 rounds, said he did not know whether he had fired at all.

In Detective Sanchez’s 911 call, he can be heard describing his appearance — “I’m a black male” — and what he was wearing so that the responding officers would not think he was a suspect. He carried no police identification that night, to protect his cover. He said what sounded on the sometimes garbled audio recording like “M.O.S. shot,” which stands for a police officer, or “member of the service.”

The dispatcher asked, “Is an M.O.S. involved down?”

“I don’t know,” Detective Sanchez said. “Not at this time.”

“You don’t see a building number or anything?” the dispatcher asked. “Some kind of landmark or something?” The detective can be heard saying to Detective Oliver on the tape, “Mike, Mike, what’s the address?”

At one point, the detective said “two perps” had been shot, perhaps referring to Mr. Bell and Joseph Guzman, who were shot in Mr. Bell’s car. A second man who was wounded, Trent Benefield, had run down the block.

Mr. Bell and his friends were shot after leaving the Club Kalua; Detective Isnora has told officials that he believed they were going to Mr. Bell’s car for a gun after an argument outside the club.

Detective Sanchez testified that moments before the shooting, he heard shouts but did not hear any of the words shouted and could not say whether anyone identified themselves as police officers.

On cross-examination, he recalled that he testified last year before a grand jury that he was standing at 94th Avenue when he heard what sounded like “commands” from Liverpool Street around the corner in Jamaica. But the detective testified on Tuesday that he could not make out any single word of the exchange moments before five officers fired their guns.

His testimony drew criticism outside the courtroom. Detective Sanchez has said he believed three men from inside and outside the Club Kalua, which undercover officers were investigating for drugs and prostitution, were armed. But he did not join his partner that night, Detective Isnora, who followed Mr. Bell and his friends away from the club, and instead held back to try to proposition a dancer and to watch out for two men who he thought were armed.

Outside the courtroom, Michael Hardy, a lawyer for Mr. Bell’s fiancée, said Detective Sanchez was not credible because he did not act the way a detective would act if he believed his partner was walking toward a possible gunfight.

“When you put it all together, it’s not credible,” Mr. Hardy said. “It’s not what an officer would do. You would want to be with your partner. It’s clear he was not concerned where his partner was going.”

Detective Sanchez testified that he was not really paying attention to the dancer, but was merely stalling for time as he watched for one of the men he thought was armed.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:Correction: March 6, 2008
Headlines in some editions on Wednesday about testimony in the trial of three New York City police detectives charged in the shooting death of
Sean Bell outside a Queens nightclub in 2006 referred incorrectly to the case. It is being heard by a judge only; there is no jury.



Published: March 4, 2008
The first undercover detective to enter an exotic dancing club in Queens hours before the fatal shooting of Sean Bell had misgivings from the start, telling his lieutenant he was uncomfortable with the size and rowdiness of the crowd at Club Kalua, the detective testified on Monday.

“There’s more guys; it’s a lot rowdier,” the detective, Hispolito Sanchez, 36, said he told Lt. Gary Napoli that night, Nov. 24, 2006. A fellow detective, Gescard F. Isnora, sat beside him, but Detective Sanchez was concerned about a man “looking at me hard” from across the room. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” he testified. But he said he became more at ease when a third detective, Marc Cooper, joined them.

The detective’s testimony at the trial of Detectives Isnora, Cooper and Michael Oliver was the first from a police officer who was inside Club Kalua during the hours before the shooting, which occurred early Nov. 25. Detective Sanchez also said that he had overheard an argument between Mr. Bell’s friends and another man, and that one of Mr. Bell’s friends said, “Yo, go get my gun.”

Detective Sanchez was not involved in the shooting, in which five officers fired 50 rounds, killing Mr. Bell and wounding his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield. The detective’s recollection of that night, told before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury, stopped just short of the shooting as testimony ended for the day.

Investigators, including Detective Sanchez, had conducted a similar prostitution and drug operation a few nights earlier, on Nov. 22, which ended with the arrests of two women. Detective Sanchez said that when he returned on the night of Nov. 24, teaming up with Detectives Isnora and Cooper, he saw a man, Mr. Guzman, arguing with someone inside.

He testified that Detective Isnora told him that he had overheard a man in a Chicago White Sox cap tell a woman that he would “take care of” a man she had had a problem with earlier, and that the man in the cap indicated a bulge in his clothing, as if he were armed.

Shortly before closing time, Detective Sanchez said, he saw that the two other detectives had left, and he left, too. He said that he saw them outside among about 20 customers, and that Detective Isnora told him he had retrieved his gun, which he could not carry into the club.

Then Detective Sanchez said he overheard an argument between Mr. Guzman and a man standing near a sport utility vehicle in front of the club. During the argument, Mr. Bell approached and said they should all beat the man up, and Mr. Guzman said twice, “Yo, go get my gun,” Detective Sanchez said.

The man near the S.U.V. said nothing, he said. “He had his right hand in his jacket. He shot Sean Bell a look,” Detective Sanchez said.

Then Mr. Bell and his friends walked toward Liverpool Street. Detective Sanchez said he called Lieutenant Napoli and passed the phone to Detective Isnora, who followed Mr. Bell.

Detective Sanchez said he stayed behind.

Other testimony on Monday, from the first paramedics and emergency medical technicians to arrive after the shooting, described the frantic efforts to save Mr. Bell, who was in his car and had no pulse. One emergency medical technician administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation while a paramedic with an air balloon also tried to resuscitate Mr. Bell.

On cross examination, the paramedic, Lt. Elise Hanlon, testified that when she arrived on Liverpool shortly after receiving the call at 4:14 a.m., there was another ambulance parked in the area where most of the 50 police shell casings would later be found. The defense is expected to raise the possibility that the ambulance jostled the shell casings, contaminating the evidence.

Firefighter Mark Massa helped treat one of the wounded, Mr. Benefield. He said that Mr. Benefield appeared to be sober, which contradicted the defense’s portrayal of Mr. Bell’s bachelor party as a drunken affair. He also said he could not tell whether the wound in Mr. Benefield’s right buttock was an entrance or an exit wound, raising the possibility that prosecutors might suggest he was shot while running away.

Past Coverage



Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Three detectives are charged in a killing: Michael Oliver, second from left; Gescard F. Isnora, second from right with his hands in his pockets; and Marc Cooper, behind Detective Isnora.

Published: March 3, 2008
“Police!”That single word is playing an increasing role in the trial of three detectives charged in the killing of Sean Bell, as prosecutors seek to prove that the detectives did not identify themselves as police officers before they opened fire.On Friday, the commanding officer of the undercover police unit that confronted Mr. Bell on Nov. 25, 2006, Lt. Gary Napoli, testified that he did not hear the detective who fired first, Gescard F. Isnora, yell, “Police!” Nor did he hear any of the other officers, including the other two on trial, Detectives Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, shout the word, he said.While similar claims have been made by Mr. Bell’s friends, who were around the corner, and by an exotic dancer who said she saw the shooting, Lieutenant Napoli’s was the first such testimony in the trial from a fellow officer. He also testified that he did not remember whether Detective Isnora or Detective Oliver, who fired 42 shots between them, were wearing their badges.Detective Isnora testified before a grand jury that he shouted, “Police!” lawyers said in their opening statements last week.Defense lawyers sought to question whether the lieutenant could have heard the shout.At the time, Lieutenant Napoli was in the passenger seat of an unmarked car traveling south on Liverpool Street, away from Mr. Bell’s parked car, as Detective Isnora approached it. Mr. Bell sped from the curb, hitting Detective Isnora in the leg and ramming Detective Oliver’s unmarked van before reversing, hitting a wall and ramming the van again.At the moment of the initial shots, the lieutenant had ducked down in his seat to find a police dome light for his unmarked car, he said. He first heard what sounded like two vehicles collide, followed by gunshots. Believing the police were under fire, he remained crouched in the seat, he said.

On cross-examination, a defense lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, asked about his having not heard any shout. “Because you didn’t hear it,” he said, “does that mean it wasn’t done?”

“No,” Lieutenant Napoli replied.

Mr. Bell’s two friends in the car that morning, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, are expected to testify that Detective Isnora did not identify himself before firing.



Keith Bedford for The New York Times

Three detectives are charged in the shooting of Sean Bell on the morning of his wedding outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, in 2006.

Published: March 3, 2008
Exhibit No. 2A, a simple floor plan of a night club, was placed into evidence by the prosecution in State Supreme Court in Queens last week. It is a crime scene investigator’s pen-and-ruler rendering of Club Kalua, and while it had the club’s dimensions down to the inch, the number of stools at the bar and the size of the stages, it managed to tell nothing about the place.It is like looking at an empty glass and trying to taste one of the club’s popular $16 Long Island iced teas. There is nothing on the diagram, for instance, marking the spot where Trini and Holiday, two dancers, once wrestled a man out of the changing room. The drawing does not explain that when dancers implore customers for $20 glasses of champagne, it’s not because they’re thirsty.There is nothing there about the police raid in 2006 that collected a gravity knife, a bag of cocaine and a stun gun from a purse behind the bar. Nothing about the customer who called the dancers “family.”But the criminal trial of three detectives charged in the killing of Sean Bell in a fusillade of 50 bullets has brought new attention to the club. As the first week of testimony ended on Friday, details about the moment of the shooting remained murky, but life at the club, as described by patrons and employees, had become far clearer. Perhaps too clear for a scene normally blurred by shadow and liquor.Some have vilified the place. A defense lawyer in the case, Anthony L. Ricco, chose colorful language in his opening statement before the 74-year-old judge who will render a verdict. Mr. Ricco all but described it as the next Sodom and Gomorrah: “A place where people go to drink, watch women shake their booties and fulfill a sense of twisted sexual prowess.”Before the shooting, it was a second-rate men’s club, an off-the-beaten-path dive in Jamaica below an elevated train and near a shop selling live chickens. And yet, a reporter’s visit last week suggested that 2006 may have been the club’s heyday. Today, it smells bad inside, like a person who needs a bath.But for those who are there day in and day out, it is more like a cozy neighborhood pub than a strip club. It is a place where a young woman can work to put herself through college, where dancers who are competing for every dollar nonetheless develop an us-against-them camaraderie. It is like a family, said Harold James, who used to visit three times a week — a family that frisks its visitors, but a family nonetheless.The night of Mr. Bell’s party was like most any other at Club Kalua, employees said. A doorman patted everyone down, from shoulders to ankles. Even Mr. James, 37, said he was frisked from time to time, although just for show, “If there’s a crowd outside.”

Once inside, the music was deafening. There were a couple of arcade games opposite the main stage, an A.T.M. in the back that charged a $5 service fee and dancers who, when they weren’t dancing, were prowling the floor, flirting with customers and hustling the valuable champagne drinks. For every $20 glass of champagne sold, the dancer pocketed $10, according to the testimony of one dancer, Marseilles Payne. At the Kalua, Ms. Payne was known by her stage name, Trini, which is short for her family’s homeland in Trinidad.

“Everybody was making money,” she said of the night of Mr. Bell’s bachelor party. “Everybody was having fun.”

Not quite everyone.

One of Mr. Bell’s friends, Larenzo Kinred, said, “I saw a woman throw a drink at a man.” And later, he said, “A female had come up to me, crying, talking about how she had just gotten smacked.”

Ms. Payne recalled the confrontation that night in the dressing room between a dancer, Lizette, and her boyfriend. “They started arguing and Lizette got up and smacked him,” she said. He returned the blow: “Back of the hand,” she said. “They were tussling.” Ms. Payne and another dancer jumped between them, pushed the man out and slammed the door.

A ramp in the rear led to a small so-called V.I.P. area, which Mr. Bell and his friends visited after ordering Long Island iced teas. The bartender, Emilcen Angulo, 53, who has worked there for four years and has been known to have a customer’s refill ready before it is ordered, testified that she still remembered Mr. Bell’s $5 tip.

Another bartender, Tina O’Neale, 25, testified that one of Mr. Bell’s friends, Joseph Guzman, ordered a glass of Hennessy cognac and bought her a shot of tequila, and asked her out. “He was like, ‘Are you going to give me an answer before you leave?’ ” she told a grand jury last year in testimony released last week.

Seeing friends was more important than seeing the women, said Mr. James, the regular who was known by his nickname, Bones. “I know all the girls,” he said. “It’s not like I’m seeing something spectacular.”

The feeling was mutual. “Bones was Bones,” Ms. Payne testified. “If he liked you, he’d tip you a couple of dollars. Other than that, he was just there to talk, to run his mouth.”

The club was the latest sex-oriented operation in Jamaica closely associated with Martina and Roger Duran, a mother and son who have managed to remain in business for nearly a decade despite repeated raids by police and attempts by the city and state officials to shut them down, according to a review of court records and enforcement actions conducted by The New York Times in December 2006.

There have been no arrests at the club since Mr. Bell’s shooting, said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman. The State Liquor Authority has two cases pending against the club, one for more than two years, that could lead to the revocation of its liquor license, possibly this month.

One case cites a failure to include Ms. Duran on the license application, the other is a 2005 prostitution charge. An administrative law judge issued findings in both cases on Feb. 12, said William Crowley, a spokesman for the Liquor Authority, who said that the findings will not be made public until they are finalized.

The club has 20 days to review the findings before a final order is issued. The authority’s board is expected to issue its final order at a meeting on March 20, Mr. Crowley said.

While the club is still open, a visit on Thursday night suggested that the last year had not been kind.

The club seemed decorated to fit any occasion, with Christmas lights and snowflakes in one area, and “Happy Birthday” and sagging Valentine’s Day balloons in another. A sign behind the bar reminded bartenders that “hair and nails must be done.” A disk jockey repeatedly told customers that they must have a drink in their hands at all times. That would not have been many drinks: The dozen or so dancers outnumbered the men they were dancing for.

The dancers clung to the men, offering back rubs and lap dances and asking for champagne. They wore bikinis, and did not strip on stage, which employees said had long been the case even though since the shooting and during the trial it had often been described as a strip club. One dancer who was flirting with customers paused to pay a Chinese food deliveryman for her vegetable lo mein, which she ate by herself in the V.I.P. area.

Employees said business has slowed since the shooting. The weekends are sometimes busy, they said, but not always.

Even Mr. James, who last year told the grand jury, “This is my family in here,” testified that he hardly went in the club anymore.

“Maybe once in a blue moon,” he said.

Ray Rivera contributed reporting.



Published: March 1, 2008
The commanding officer of the detectives charged in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell testified on Friday that believing he was under fire, he drew his gun and pointed it toward the passenger windows of his car that night. He was ready not only for ambush, he said, but ready to add to the fusillade of 50 shots that claimed Mr. Bell’s life.
Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Lt. Gary Napoli, left, leaving State Supreme Court in Queens with a lawyer after testifying in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell.

“If anyone came up on our car, I would have fired,” said the officer, Lt. Gary Napoli, in part of the second-by-second account he gave in the trial of three detectives charged in Mr. Bell’s killing after his bachelor party on Nov. 25, 2006.

The lieutenant also testified that an oft-quoted radio transmission from one of the detectives before the shooting that the situation was “getting hot” was, to his mind, a frantic call for help.

Prosecutors have said that the team led by Lieutenant Napoli, a 24-year police veteran, was disorganized and incompetent. The group was part of the Police Department’s “club initiative” in which undercover officers bought drugs in clubs and backup officers arrested the sellers.

The group that night was hoping to make arrests at a Jamaica strip club, the Club Kalua, where Sean Bell and some friends were celebrating his bachelor party. In State Supreme Court in Queens on Friday, the lieutenant said they were forced into split-second decisions they believed were necessary to protect their lives.

Detectives Gescard F. Isnora and Michael Oliver face first- and second-degree manslaughter charges and Detective Marc Cooper faces a reckless endangerment charge.

Lieutenant Napoli recalled being in a car with two colleagues — Detectives Paul Headley and Cooper — not far from the Club Kalua, when he got an urgent call on his cellphone from Detective Isnora.

“He lets me know there’s two groups basically in a heated argument,” Lieutenant Napoli said, describing Detective Isnora’s call. “He’s near them and he believes there may be weapons involved.”

A short time later, Lieutenant Napoli testified, he received another, more frantic call from Detective Isnora, who told him it was “getting hot” and that “I need you here quick.”

“That was a call for help in my eyes,” Lieutenant Napoli said.

With Detective Headley driving, Lieutenant Napoli in the passenger seat and Detective Cooper in the back seat, their car turned south onto Liverpool Street from 94th Avenue, the lieutenant said. He spotted Detective Isnora, who raised his chin in an upward motion, gesturing toward Mr. Bell’s car, he said.

They drove past Mr. Bell’s car and were coming to a stop when he bent down to reach for the flashing bubble light to place on the dashboard, he said. Before he could get to it, Lieutenant Napoli said, he heard a collision and then gunshots.

“I told Marc and Paul, ‘Get down, we’re under fire,’ ” Lieutenant Napoli testified.

Lieutenant Napoli said that he drew his gun, and that his initial reaction was to aim out the rear window, but Detective Cooper blocked his line of fire. So instead, the lieutenant crouched in his seat and aimed out the side windows, he said.

But then he realized, for one simple reason, that their car, a tan Toyota Camry, was not under fire: none of the windows were broken. As the gunfire continued, he said, the three got out of their car. Lieutenant Napoli said he crawled toward the back of the car.

Trying to find the source of the gunfire, Lieutenant Napoli said, he reached the rear of the vehicle — but then the shots stopped.

“When it ended, there was almost like an eerie silence,” he said.

Lieutenant Napoli, who did not fire his gun, said he did not recall the long pause that other witnesses have testified about.

“This is seconds,” he said. “Everything is in seconds. A very close approximation of time.”

Asked by prosecutors what went through his mind, Lieutenant Napoli said, “Just to see that, thank God, none of us were hurt and we were going home.”

The assistant district attorney, Charles A. Testagrossa, in his questioning, seemed to suggest that the lieutenant had shown restraint when the detectives who fired did not.

“You would not just let shots go without having an identified target?” he asked the lieutenant.

“Correct,” Lieutenant Napoli responded.

From a crouched position behind his car, the lieutenant said, he saw movement in Mr. Bell’s car. He told the passenger to show his hands, and Mr. Guzman stuck his hands out the window and wiggled his fingers, he said.

As he got closer to the car, Lieutenant Napoli told Detective Michael Oliver to call an ambulance. Lieutenant Napoli said he could not remember if any of his detectives were wearing their badges.

“It was surreal; we were all in a state of shock,” he said. “We were O.K. We didn’t really discuss anything more.”

Lieutenant Napoli was the only witness to testify on Friday as the first week of the trial came to an end.

Under cross-examination from Anthony L. Ricco, the lawyer for Detective Isnora, Lieutenant Napoli tried to dispel the suggestion that he led an overzealous unit looking for an arrest that would get the Club Kalua shut down and keep his team intact. The department was planning to streamline its club initiative anyway, he said.

“If we made an arrest, that wouldn’t have kept our command together,” he said. “That decision was beyond us.”

Detective Isnora had helped secure prior arrests at Kalua, Lieutenant Napoli said.

But under questioning from Mr. Testagrossa, Lieutenant Napoli confirmed that undercover detectives do not generally make arrests; rather, they are supposed to alert their backup units to handle that.

Lieutenant Napoli described Detective Isnora as quiet, thoughtful and good at his job. He said Detective Cooper was a responsible officer. He spoke highly of the detectives’ ability to infiltrate the Club Kalua.

“It’s basically a neighborhood location and people tend to know each other,” he said, “unlike Manhattan, which is more transient.”

Past Coverage



Published: February 29, 2008
Inevitably, emotions ran high this week with the start of the trial in the 50-shot police killing of Sean Bell. That much was obvious in protests outside the courthouse in Queens. It was obvious in angry comments posted on blogs.For some New Yorkers, the entire Police Department stands in the dock with the three indicted detectives, branded as out of control.Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to step back from the Bell case for a dispassionate look at some numbers. They show that notwithstanding disasters like the shooting of unarmed men like Mr. Bell or Amadou Diallo, New York City police officers as a group are more restrained than ever in drawing their guns.This is true regardless of which category is examined: incidents in which guns were drawn, shots fired, civilians wounded or, worst, civilians killed. The figures for all are well below what they were years and decades ago.“They’re consistently going down,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, a New York group that studies crime and police procedures. “It’s not as though we’ve had a couple of dips. They’re going down year after year after year.”This phenomenon is not unique to New York. In many American cities, “we’ve seen fairly substantial declines across the board in police shootings,” said Prof. Michael D. White, a former deputy sheriff in eastern Pennsylvania who teaches policing at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.Even so, one statistic kept by the New York Police Department suggests that officers here are far less likely to kill than their counterparts elsewhere.In 2006, the year of Mr. Bell’s death, New York had 0.36 lethal police shootings for each 1,000 officers on the force. To cite a few other cities, Phoenix that year had 3.79, Philadelphia 3.34, Detroit 1.90, Los Angeles 1.39 and Chicago 1.11.

With the Bell case trial unfolding, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly declined through a spokesman to discuss the matter. But others in and outside the department mention factors like improved training techniques and stricter controls to hold officers accountable if they reach for their guns. Then, too, with crime on the decline, the police are less likely than they were in years past to find themselves in shooting situations.

Training now goes way beyond firing at a stationary target, which was the standard practice years ago when he was a deputy sheriff, Professor White said.

It is now “a lot more realistic,” he said, “and prepares officers much more adequately for what it’s going to be like on the street.”

As for accountability, Mr. Aborn said that officers know that they will have to answer to a review board. That sort of oversight “sends the message that if you pull out your gun, make sure you know what you’re doing,” he said.

Statistics can be deadly in a column, but bear with us. The Police Department provided figures going back to 1973, which it considers a starting point for valid comparisons across the years.

In this decade, through 2007, officers have shot and killed an average of 12 people a year. The annual average for the 1990s was 25. It was 24 in the 1980s and 38 in the 1970s.

The average number of people wounded per year is 22 since the beginning of 2000. It was 56 in the ’90s, 52 in the ’80s and 87 in the ’70s. The per-year average for all shooting incidents: 125 so far in this decade, 288 in the ’90s, 371 in the ’80s and 467 in the ’70s. Average number of shots per year, working backward through the decades: 499, 1,126, 849 and 1,258.

Not all of those bullets, by the way, were fired intentionally — or, for that matter, were even aimed at people. In 2006, for instance, the targets in one-fourth of the shootings were dogs, mainly pit bulls. In three cases, officers shot themselves.

Some experts note, correctly, that police officers are not always models of shooting accuracy. If they draw their weapons, they are almost by definition under stress.

There are startling examples of bullets flying every which way, as some did in the Bell case. Also, in recent years the average number of rounds fired in each incident have crept up, to 5.2 in 2007 from 3.1 in 2004.

Still, the totals — 592 shots in 2007 — are nowhere near the 1,728 recorded in 1995 as the department traded its traditional six-shot revolver for a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun capable of firing 16 rounds.

With Sean Bell, the harsh reality of those 50 bullets naturally stirs passions, above and beyond built-in racial tensions. Nonetheless, Mr. Aborn said, “the data speaks for itself.” To him, it says, “You can’t accuse the N.Y.P.D. of being a force out of control when it comes to fatal shootings.”

Past Coverage



Published: February 29, 2008
The group of police officers and detectives involved in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell outside a strip club in Queens had first planned to work elsewhere that night, but changed their plan when they could not find the drug dealer they wanted to arrest, the group’s commanding officer testified on Thursday.

The commanding officer, Lt. Gary Napoli, said the officers knew of a dealer, in the nearby 105th Precinct, whom they had been unable to arrest earlier. “My first thought was to try to pick up a lost subject,” he said in testimony in State Supreme Court in Queens. But the arrest was scuttled: “That individual we wanted to meet with was not available,” Lieutenant Napoli said.

The lieutenant’s testimony is of great interest in the trial of three detectives accused in the killing of Mr. Bell on Nov. 25, 2006, outside the Club Kalua, a topless bar in the 103rd Precinct, in Jamaica.

The detectives, Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, were part of a group that confronted Mr. Bell and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, on Liverpool Street around the corner from the club and, believing they were being shot at, fired 50 rounds at Mr. Bell’s car, killing him and wounding the two others.

Lieutenant Napoli was the highest-ranking officer on the scene at the time of the shooting, and is expected to describe the shift in the night’s focus from trying to buy drugs and solicit prostitutes to trying to make a gun arrest among Mr. Bell’s cohorts at his bachelor party when he resumes testifying on Friday. Prosecutors have called the operation disorganized and the officers incompetent.

Detectives Oliver and Isnora face charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Detective Cooper faces two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment.

Lieutenant Napoli, 50, reed-thin in a coat and tie, sat down to begin testifying just after 3:30 p.m., so the prosecutor, Charles A. Testagrossa, did not get far in his questioning before day’s end.

After a summary of his 24 years with the Police Department — including assignments in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, and in the Internal Affairs Bureau and other commands — Lieutenant Napoli described the Police Department’s club initiative, which began in October 2006 in Chelsea.

A group of undercover officers, usually women, bought drugs in nightclubs, and backup officers arrested the sellers, he said. The group’s focus later changed to Queens.

Before their work began around 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2006, a Friday, the officers had every reason to believe that their group would likely not work together again, Lieutenant Napoli said. “There were going to be massive changes as of Monday,” he said. “It was going to be streamlined, cut in half, and the concentration shifted,” he said. “Back to Manhattan.”

He explained the tactical plan for the night, which was written on a police form and submitted into evidence. The form listed eight nightclubs in Queens, but did not include the Club Kalua. “It was an error that I spoke to the team about,” Lieutenant Napoli said. “We were only going after Kalua.”

In other testimony on Thursday, two friends recalled Mr. Bell arguing with a man dressed in black near a sport utility vehicle in front of the club shortly before the shooting. Both friends, Larenzo Kinred and Hugh Jensen, said they saw the stranger in black put one or both hands in his pockets, and they believed that he had a gun or was trying to give that impression. Yet the argument between the man and Mr. Bell was mild enough that Mr. Jensen was not distracted from his attempts to get the phone number of a woman he had met inside the club, he said. Mr. Kinred, too, said he was distracted by a woman who had told him earlier that a man had slapped her.

The club was closed, but Mr. Bell wanted to get back inside, Mr. Kinred said.

“I heard the guy in black say, ‘You can’t be going in there. I’ve got money in there,’ ” Mr. Kinred said. He did not know what the statement meant, but other witnesses have said the man in black, who has been identified by lawyers in the case as Fabio Coicou, dated a dancer there, and that the staff routinely counted money at the night’s end. Other witnesses have said that Mr. Coicou made a remark about Mr. Bell being drunk.

Mr. Kinred said he heard another friend, James Kollore, say, “We’ll take that off you,” apparently referring to the gun they believed the man was carrying.

The testimony would seem to bolster the claims of the detectives on trial, who have said they believed Mr. Bell’s friends were armed and planning a drive-by shooting.

When the police started shooting, Mr. Kinred and Mr. Jensen were around the corner, but they said they rushed toward the gunshots during what they described as a 10-second pause in the firing. Mr. Kinred said he saw one officer shooting his final bullets. “I saw the sparks,” he said.

Past Coverage



Published: February 28, 2008
Prosecutors in the trial of three detectives accused in the shooting death of Sean Bell plan to call the detectives’ commanding officer to testify on Thursday about the club enforcement detail that he supervised, and to be questioned about supposed blunders it made, according to people who have been briefed on the case.

Since the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting outside a strip club in Jamaica, Queens, critics have accused the commanding officer, Lt. Gary Napoli, of running a disorganized operation. Part of his address to the team earlier that night turned out to have had a prophetic air, as quoted by an assistant district attorney, Charles A. Testagrossa, at trial on Monday.

“This may be our last night together,” the lieutenant told the team, according to Mr. Testagrossa. The lieutenant added, “Let’s make it count.”

Lieutenant Napoli will be the first police officer to testify who was at the shooting, as the trial zeros in on the 50 shots fired by the police at Mr. Bell and two of his friends, one of whom, officers said, was suspected of having a gun.

The shooting occurred after Mr. Bell, who was to be married later that day, left a bachelor party at Club Kalua.

Mr. Bell and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, had argued with a man parked near the club, the detectives’ lawyers have said, and when the men left for Mr. Bell’s car, the police approached them on Liverpool Street. In the confrontation that followed, Mr. Bell was killed and Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield were wounded. No gun was found.

Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, who fired first, and 11 times in all, and Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, face charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Detective Marc Cooper, who fired 4 times from Lieutenant Napoli’s car, faces two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment. Four more shots were fired by another detective and a police officer; they were not charged.

Lieutenant Napoli has described the evening of the shooting in interviews with police investigators. The club enforcement detail had met at the Seventh Precinct station house on the Lower East Side of Manhattan the night before.

Prosecutors contend that the detail was disorganized from the start, its members having chosen their own roles in the night’s mission rather than having received them from Lieutenant Napoli. “The preparation for the operation fell far short,” Mr. Testagrossa said in court.

The lieutenant is scheduled to appear on Thursday as a witness for the prosecutor, but he is expected to receive harsh questioning.

“He’s calling him as his witness, but treating him in a very dismissive way,” said a person who has been briefed on the case but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the trial is under way.

On cross-examination, the defense lawyers are expected to point out that the lieutenant was in charge throughout the night. “Showing each individual defendant was doing what they were doing because they were told to do so by a superior officer,” the person briefed on the case said. “These guys weren’t cowboys.”

There had been a rumor in November 2006 that the club enforcement team was soon to be cut in half or dissolved, Mr. Testagrossa said in his opening statement. Lieutenant Napoli announced at the planning meeting the night before the shooting that in the hours ahead, the team, which had already conducted one undercover operation at Club Kalua, would return there, where they could help close it down for good if they made one more arrest.

Detective Isnora and others, working undercover, were to solicit prostitutes or try to buy drugs, and Detective Oliver and other officers parked outside were to make any arrests.

But the plan changed when Detective Isnora called the lieutenant to report his suspicions that a man inside was armed. A short while later, Detective Isnora, who had just witnessed the exchange between Mr. Bell and the man parked out front, called again and said, “It’s getting hot on Liverpool, for real. I think there’s a gun,” the police have said.

Lieutenant Napoli told investigators that his vehicle, an unmarked rental car driven by another detective and with Detective Cooper in the back seat, drove past Detective Isnora, who nodded toward Mr. Bell’s car. The lieutenant made eye contact with one of the men in Mr. Bell’s car, and he believed the man knew him to be a police officer, according to the investigation report.

As the lieutenant’s car continued down Liverpool, driving away from Mr. Bell, the fatal confrontation began behind his vehicle. Mr. Bell’s car lurched from the curb and struck Detective Isnora, bruising his leg, and then hit Detective Oliver’s van, the police said. Mr. Bell, whose blood alcohol level was later said to be at least twice the legal limit for driving, reversed into a wall, then hit the van again. The detectives opened fire.

Lieutenant Napoli did not. Believing that his car was being fired upon, he crouched down until the shooting stopped several seconds later, he told investigators. He then approached Mr. Bell’s car, his gun drawn, and ordered the men inside to show their hands.



Published: February 27, 2008
A riveted courtroom in Queens listened on Tuesday to the first witness testimony describing the 50 police gunshots that killed Sean Bell outside a strip club, delivered by an exotic dancer who saw part of the shooting before running around a corner and hiding in some bushes.
Pool photo by Willie Anderson

Marseilles Payne was a dancer at Club Kalua in Queens.

The testimony from the dancer, Marseilles Payne, 32, in the trial of three detectives charged in Mr. Bell’s shooting was as dramatic as it was at odds with other accounts of that early morning of Nov. 25, 2006. Ms. Payne’s version more closely resembled an account of road rage, with a single detective opening fire after a car collision, than the chaotic events that the police, prosecutors and the defense have described.

Nonetheless, hearing the account, several supporters of Mr. Bell and his family, including his parents, left the courtroom in tears as Ms. Payne herself broke down several times.

Ms. Payne said she last saw Mr. Bell turn on his car’s headlights on Liverpool Street, in Jamaica, Queens, and pull away from the curb. She was at her car and was going to follow him and his friends to a diner for breakfast after her long night of dancing, she said.

“As he came out, a minivan came from behind me and they crashed,” she said. “The driver of the minivan got out of the car. He got out and he started shooting.” She said she was close enough to see the muzzle flash from his pistol.

“I saw the fire, like, three times and I turned and I ran,” she said, adding that she crouched in someone’s shrubs. “I waited for the gunshots to stop. It was about three seconds, and I started to get up, and the gunshots started again.”

The testimony came on the busy second day of the trial, which also featured accounts of Mr. Bell relaxing and celebrating his coming wedding in what would be the last hours of his life, at the Club Kalua. As the group celebrated, a group of undercover officers was on duty at the club, where prostitution and drug activity were suspected.

Around 4 that morning, a Saturday, Detective Gescard F. Isnora, convinced that Mr. Bell or one of his passengers, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, was armed, confronted them at Mr. Bell’s car. Mr. Bell sped forward and hit Detective Isnora’s leg and an unmarked minivan driven by Detective Michael Oliver. The detectives fired 42 bullets between them. Mr. Bell was killed, and his two friends were wounded. Detectives Isnora and Oliver face charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. A third detective, Marc Cooper, faces two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment for four shots he fired; another detective and a police officer fired the remaining four shots, and have not been charged.

The case is being tried without a jury present — Justice Arthur J. Cooperman of State Supreme Court is to render a verdict at its conclusion — and so its relatively fast pace continued Tuesday with several witnesses. There is no testimony scheduled Wednesday.

It was Detective Oliver whom Ms. Payne described, but she said she did not know at the time that he was a police detective.

On cross-examination, Ms. Payne said she did not see most of the events in the widely held account of the shooting, even though it seems she could have from what she described as her vantage point. She said she never saw Detective Isnora approach Mr. Bell’s car with a gun, and never saw Mr. Bell back up after hitting the minivan, strike a wall and charge forward, hitting the van again.

She said she never heard anyone shout “Police,” never heard any screams. She said she ran back to the club and told the bouncer, “They’re shooting down the block! They’re killing those boys!”

She said that after two or three minutes, she ran back to her car so she could move it before the police arrived, but she was too late, arriving to see paramedics pulling bodies from Mr. Bell’s car. When the police questioned her, she repeatedly denied having seen or heard anything before finally giving detectives a statement that night, she said.

“I don’t need this drama in my life,” she said Tuesday, recalling her reluctance.

Ms. Payne also described an encounter, before the shooting, with a bald man who called her nickname, Trini, as she left the club. He said he had been watching her all night, and offered to pay for private time with her, but she said, “I don’t do dates.”

She later learned the man was an undercover police officer, although not one of the officers involved in the shooting.

Her testimony was not all about the shooting, and brought laughter at times. Justice Cooperman at one point admonished the spectators to remain silent after people laughed at an anecdote from the self-described “second-best pole dancer” in New York.

The day’s testimony also included something of a guided tour of what it is like to work at a topless bar near train tracks, far from the glitz of the Manhattan clubs and their high-end clientele. Bartenders and a stripper testified that at Club Kalua, a glass of cheap Champagne for a dancer cost a man $20, and $10 of that later went to the dancer. Four men worked security on a busy night, and yet it was not unheard of for dancers to fight off men in the back changing room, a grim little chamber with tiny lockers and a toilet in the corner.

Ms. Payne said she quit dancing at the club soon after the shooting, and now works as a medical assistant.

Also taking the witness stand was the man whose idea it was for Mr. Bell to go to Club Kalua: Harold James, 37, an old neighborhood friend who, to hear him and others tell it, spent as much time in the club as some of the poles on the stages. He had a reputation for bringing in business — for “making it rain,” he testified — and that was just what he did when he heard that his friend was about to be married.

He left before the party ended, and was startled when both the bouncer and Ms. Payne called later to say there had been a shooting. He returned and lied his way past police officers, saying he was the wounded Mr. Benefield’s brother, and gave Mr. Benefield his cellphone to speak to his mother, he said.

Poignant details of the night came out in the testimony of a man who at first did not want to attend the party: Sean Bell’s father, William Bell, 54. “But he kept calling,” Mr. Bell said of his son, “so I finally agreed to go.”



Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Valerie and William Bell arriving at the Queens Criminal Court building, where Mr. Bell told of their son Sean’s last hours.

Published: February 27, 2008
William Bell did not want to go to the party. It felt awkward, going to his son’s bachelor bash at a strip club. It just was not his kind of place. “Be with your friends,” he told his son, Sean.


From Witness in Police Killing, Tearful Recall of a Party Gone Bad (February 27, 2008)

Times Topics: Sean Bell City Room: Sean Bell Shooting

Pool photo by Willie Anderson

Marseilles Payne was a dancer at Club Kalua in Queens.

But Sean was not having it. He called his father — who was to be his best man — several times that day, pleading with him to make an appearance. Finally, Mr. Bell agreed. He would swing by with a friend. They ended up spending nearly three hours in the noisy Queens club.

“We sat and talked, shared a couple laughs together,” Mr. Bell said. He hugged his son goodbye around 3 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2006.

The next time he saw him was around 11 that night, in a morgue.

In the 15 months since Sean Bell died in a hail of 50 police bullets, William Bell has spoken out about the case, a calm presence behind a battery of microphones. He has described the lingering sense of loss shared with his wife, Valerie. But on Tuesday, he took on a new role: patron at a strip club, however briefly, now appearing as a witness in court.

Mr. Bell, 54, was testifying at the trial of three detectives involved in the shooting. He said he had only learned of the party, at the Club Kalua in Jamaica, earlier in the day, when his son called to invite him.

“I really didn’t want to go,” Mr. Bell testified. “But he kept calling.”

He said he arrived at the club around 12:30 a.m. with a friend who was Sean’s godfather. Mr. Bell said he had planned to stay only a short time.

“I didn’t leave as fast as I thought I would,” he said. “I was spending time with him.”

Mr. Bell and his son sat side by side on a couch at the rear of the club. They had to shout to hear each other because of the loud music. “I was happy for him; very much,” Mr. Bell said.

He testified that he did not see any confrontations while at the club and that when he left, his son appeared to be in good condition. The defense has raised questions about Sean Bell’s sobriety on the night of the shooting.

More than an hour after he left the club, William Bell said, the phone rang at the family’s home in Far Rockaway, Queens. That was when he and Valerie, his wife of 29 years, learned that Sean was at the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, and that he had died.

Anthony L. Ricco, the defense lawyer for one of the detectives on trial, Gescard F. Isnora, asked Mr. Bell if, upon leaving the club, he considered that it might be the last time he saw his son alive.

“No, you never think that,” Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Bell said he still thought about his son every day. During his testimony, he hinted at his continued attachment: When an assistant district attorney, Charles A. Testagrossa, asked Mr. Bell if he had children, he said yes, and went on to give their names and ages. He said William Jr. was 29, Dolores was 15 and Sean was 24.

Sean Bell died at 23.

As he left the Queens Criminal Court building Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Bell described his testimony as “tiresome.”

At one point in the afternoon, Mrs. Bell broke down and had to step out of the courtroom during a dancer’s vivid testimony about the shooting.

“I’ve been thinking about my son — good things,” Mr. Bell said outside the courthouse. “That’s what’s been helping me get along.”

Past Coverage



Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

People gathered on Monday morning in front of the State Supreme Court in Queens, where a trial began 15 months after the killing of Sean Bell.

Published: February 26, 2008
Monty Street was not a friend or relative of Sean Bell. He never even met Mr. Bell.


Trial of Police Begins in 50-Shot Case (February 26, 2008)

NYC: A Bond Born of Grief, and Hope (February 26, 2008)

But at 7:30 Monday morning, Mr. Street and his fiancée woke up, hopped on the F train and went to the Queens Criminal Court building, where they spent several hours outside in the cold in Mr. Bell’s name. Mr. Street, 50, said he was there as a “concerned citizen.”

“I’m interested in the justice that needs to be done,” he said. “I needed to be here.”

He and his fiancée were among hundreds of people who descended on the courthouse Monday, their attention on Courtroom 190, where the trial of three detectives involved in the fatal 2006 shooting of Mr. Bell began.

Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard F. Isnora face first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in connection with the barrage of 50 bullets fired at Mr. Bell on the day he was to be married. Detective Marc Cooper faces two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment.

Several people who have worked in the courthouse regularly for more than a decade said it was as hectic a day as they had ever seen there. The court brought in roughly 20 extra security officers, barricades were erected in and around the building and special lines were cordoned off for people attending the trial.

Mr. Street, a construction worker, had the date and place of Monday’s trial opening marked on his calendar.

He said he and his fiancée stood in front of the courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. but were not allowed in because the courtroom was full. They hung around, took a quick lunch break, and were allowed in around 2:15 p.m. for the afternoon session after several seats opened up.

This was the second high-profile police shooting case Mr. Street has witnessed. He said he also went to the Queens courthouse in 1974 for the trial of Thomas J. Shea, a police officer charged with fatally shooting Clifford Glover, a 10-year-old boy, in the back in Jamaica, Queens. A jury acquitted Mr. Shea.

Mr. Street said he hoped to attend the Bell trial every day, even if it meant missing work. He said he had enough money to get by, and that being in the courtroom was worth it.

“This is a common matter,” he said. “It could’ve happened to anyone. The support needs to be here.”

Although most of the people at the courthouse on Monday seemed to support the prosecution, there was at least one prominent person backing the detectives.

Steven McDonald, a former New York City police officer who was paralyzed from the neck down in 1986 when a 15-year-old boy, Shavod Jones, shot him three times, showed up in his motorized wheelchair. He said he planned to attend the trial as often as possible.

“It’s a dangerous job,” he said. “Nobody knows that better than I do. I want those men to be cleared of all these charges and return to their lives and live them out in peace.”

While many who visited the courthouse on Monday had planned to attend the trial, several people simply stumbled upon it. They were awaiting court appearances for charges involving drugs, assault or robbery. Anthony Johnson, who was at the courthouse for an appearance on a drug charge, said he became more focused on the trial in the Bell case than on his own business.

“I’m thinking about his parents, the sympathy for his family,” said Mr. Johnson, 38, a taxi driver from South Jamaica, Queens, as he stood in the building’s main hallway waiting for his case to be called.

A man who goes by the name Mel Amazen tried to peddle his rap album as he waited in the lobby for an appearance on an assault charge. And he noted the coincidence of appearing the same day as the start of the Bell trial.

“For me, this is supposed to be a day of justice,” he said. “For his family, it’s supposed to be a day of justice. We’re all going through the same problems.”

Frank Murphy, a paralegal who works for the Legal Action Center, which offers pro bono assistance to some individuals, said his mind drifted as he went about his business on Monday.

“I have thought about the trial several times, because it does my heart heavy,” he said. “I think it’ll be a landmark case.”

Matthew Sweeney contributed reporting.

Past Coverage



Published: February 26, 2008
Kadiatou Diallo stayed far from the Queens courthouse where, 15 months after the 50 shots heard round the city, three police detectives went on trial Monday in the killing of Sean Bell. On Wednesday, she plans to be in New York to meet with Valerie Bell, the dead man’s mother. But she has chosen to keep her distance from the courthouse.

Kadiatou Diallo

“I don’t want to overshadow the family during the trial,” Mrs. Diallo said by phone from her home in Gaithersburg, Md. “But I want to support them as much as I can.”

“We have something in common: the grieving for the loss of children,” she said. “There is no advice I can think of giving, because it is hard. Nobody is prepared for such a loss.” Still, with the trial under way, she felt a need to reach out to Mrs. Bell, as she did after Sean Bell was killed in November 2006.

“New York at large showed us great support,” she said, the “us” being her family. “Now, when New York grieves, I grieve, too.”

You probably recognize Mrs. Diallo as the mother of Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant who was shot to death on Feb. 4, 1999, in another police fusillade, another case that rocked the city to its core.

In that dark February, Mr. Diallo, 23, stepped outside his small apartment house on Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx. Four officers wearing plain clothes and searching for a rape suspect stopped him. He made a fatal mistake. He pulled out his wallet. The officers mistook it for a gun and started firing, 41 shots in all. They were charged with murder. Months later, they were acquitted in a jury trial that, in contrast to the Bell case, had been moved out of New York City — to Albany.

It falls to a state judge in Queens to sort out the rights and wrongs in Mr. Bell’s death. He will decide if the three detectives performed their duty reasonably, no matter how disastrous the results, or if two of them are guilty of manslaughter and the third man of reckless endangerment, as prosecutors charge.

Originally, the trial was scheduled to begin on Feb. 4. It was delayed after the detectives, having lost their attempt to move the case out of Queens, put their fate in the judge’s hands. Jury selection, which was presumed to need weeks to complete, became a nonissue.

Given the emotions that suffuse this case, it is just as well that the start date was changed. Feb. 4 would have carried enormous symbolic weight, a point hardly lost on Mrs. Diallo.

“There is a spiritual connection there,” she said. “Things happen for a reason. The good thing is that this trial is being held in New York City. We can all learn from this, and try to do better for the future.”

As demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning, Mrs. Diallo’s mind was on other matters. She is president of the Amadou Diallo Foundation, created in 2000 and committed to “promoting racial healing and seeking cross-cultural understanding.” Monday morning found her on a conference call with other foundation officials to discuss scholarships that they offer to young Africans studying at American colleges.

She was last in New York on Feb. 4. She went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem, for a screening of a film about Amadou Diallo. “I couldn’t stay for the whole thing,” she said. “It was very painful.”

By now, Mrs. Diallo said, there is “no bitterness in my heart” toward the men who killed her son. “They have a right to live,” she said, and to build new careers, as two of the four have done as New York firefighters.

But she has yet to hear from any of them. Some years ago, she received an unsigned letter from a man claiming to be the father of one of the officers. His son, the man wrote, regretted what happened that night on Wheeler Avenue. But the officers themselves have been silent. Mrs. Diallo wishes it were otherwise.

She doesn’t doubt that they feel remorse. “But I need to hear them say that they’re sorry,” she said. “I want to be able to forgive, but I can only say that I forgive when I am asked to forgive. Anybody in my position will feel the same way.”

She has two other sons, who live with her, and a married daughter. At 49, she is also a grandmother. Her daughter, Laouratou, gave birth to triplets, all boys. That was three years ago, on Feb. 20. February is both the cruelest and a most joyous month for Mrs. Diallo, an observant Muslim. “When I look at the calendar,” she said, “I think, ‘God is great.’ ”

The first of those triplets who entered the world bears the name Amadou.



Louis Lanzano/Associated Press; Robert Stolarik for The New York Times; Chip East/Reuters

From left, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper at the courthouse, where opening arguments and the first witnesses were heard Monday.

Published: February 26, 2008
The three police detectives entered with lawyers at their sides and the stares of a crowded courtroom at their backs. The men, who once worked undercover in the shadows, were now center stage, sitting not among their fellow officers, but at the defense table.

Fifteen months to the day after Sean Bell was killed in a blast of 50 police bullets, and after rounds and rounds of court hearings, motions and countermotions, the trial of three of the officers who fired their handguns that cold morning began Monday in State Supreme Court in Queens. The proceedings began with a quick start at two minutes before 9 a.m. and kept a brisk pace all day.

Prosecutors went first, describing the detectives as a careless and incompetent group run amok the morning of Nov. 25, 2006, unorganized and desperate for an arrest as their nightclub detail was coming to a close. “The story of how this tragedy occurred is a tale of carelessness,” said Charles A. Testagrossa, an assistant district attorney, adding that the shooting “can only be characterized as criminal.”

Defense lawyers argued that Mr. Bell’s actions that morning led the detectives to believe themselves at deadly risk and provoked a shooting both justified and reasonable. One lawyer went a step further, implying that Mr. Bell’s actions were motivated by racial stereotype, and he described his client, Detective Gescard F. Isnora, as a hard-working black man whose actions were misread that morning because of assumptions.

“They see a Negro with a gun,” said the lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, describing the reactions of Mr. Bell, who was black, and his friends to Detective Isnora. “Just another Negro on the street with a gun.”

The heightened emotions continued with the prosecution’s first witness, Mr. Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, who brought a tearful jolt to the proceedings in talking about her identification of Mr. Bell’s body.

Outside the courthouse, protesters marched, some carrying signs bearing the numbers 1 to 50, for each shot fired. The demonstrations, while orderly, were not orchestrated, with a prayer vigil before the trial, conducted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, followed by fringe groups’ call for violence against the police.

Detective Isnora and Detective Michael Oliver face charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. A third detective, Marc Cooper, fired four shots and hit no one, but one of his rounds struck an AirTrain terminal, and he was charged with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.

The case is being heard by Justice Arthur J. Cooperman. The defendants waived their right to a jury trial after their attempt to have the case moved out of Queens failed. With no time needed to select jurors or to explain the nuances of the law to them, the case moved quickly, from opening statements to the first witnesses.

Prosecutors first laid out how on that Saturday morning around 4 a.m., Mr. Bell was leaving Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, where he had been celebrating his impending wedding — scheduled for later in the day — with childhood friends and his father. The detectives were working undercover to make arrests at the club for prostitution or drugs. The two groups may never have noticed each other if not for a testy exchange between Mr. Bell and another man outside the front door.

Prosecutors said Mr. Bell exchanged words with a man standing near a black sport utility vehicle who had “muttered his unhappiness” that Mr. Bell was drunk “and was overheard,” Mr. Testagrossa said. But he said the conversation never escalated and ended without incident. “Not a single blow was thrown, and no gun was displayed.”

The detectives saw the confrontation and decided to follow Mr. Bell. They have said that they believed some of the men with Mr. Bell were armed. Detective Isnora trailed Mr. Bell and two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, to their car, which was parked around the corner from the club, on Liverpool Street. He did not call for backup as he approached the men, as is standard in undercover operations, Mr. Testagrossa said, and his communication with his team was lax.

Detective Isnora has said that he pinned his police shield to his collar, but Mr. Testagrossa said it may not have been visible to Mr. Bell and his friends, and that rather than shouts of “Police!” witnesses said they heard the detective say, “Yo, let me holler at you.” 

By that time, the three men were in the car. Mr. Bell drove forward, striking the detective’s leg before hitting an unmarked van carrying Detective Oliver and another detective, who was not charged in the case. Mr. Bell then reversed, hitting a wall before speeding forward and hitting the van again.

Mr. Testagrossa said Mr. Guzman looked at the detective and saw only a man with a gun, and felt a bullet tear into his shoulder before he shouted, “Let’s do it!” to Mr. Bell, urging him to flee.

Mr. Testagrossa said Detective Oliver began shooting after Detective Isnora, firing 31 shots, with the briefest of pauses to reload. “Had he paused to reassess, he would have discovered that no gunfire was coming from the occupants of the vehicle,” the prosecutor said.

Defense lawyers portrayed the shooting as the result of a lethal mixture: in Mr. Bell’s case, of alcohol and bravado that escalated when he ignored orders from the police to stop — and then tried to run over Detective Isnora.

“As he was trained to do, Detective Oliver took immediate action to protect the life of Detective Isnora,” said James J. Culleton, a lawyer for Detective Oliver. He said the prosecution’s “fatal flaw” was its “fixation” on the number of police rounds fired. What was important, he said, was why he fired those first shots. “The only reason Detective Oliver sits in this courtroom,” he added, “is because he fired 31 shots.”

Mr. Ricco’s opening statements were less clinical and more emotional, referring to Detective Isnora by his nickname, Jesse, and describing him as the quiet, religious son of immigrants.

“Jesse was a person of color who answered the call of the community,” he said.

In front of juries, lawyers are often hesitant to criticize those who died. Mr. Ricco appeared unconcerned about speaking ill of Mr. Bell while facing his audience of one, the judge. He described Mr. Bell as drunk and spoiling for a fight after the confrontation with the man outside the club. The man, identified as Fabio Coicou, seemed to criticize his drunkenness, and Mr. Bell went into an “angry fit,” Mr. Ricco said.

“He put on hold his dreams,” he said. “He put his marriage to his high school sweetheart on the back burner.”

The lawyer said there was talk of guns between the men, and that Mr. Coicou heard one of Mr. Bell’s friends say he had a “gat,” slang for a gun. Such testimony would seem to bolster the detectives’ claims that they heard mention of a gun.

When Mr. Bell struck Detective Isnora with the car, “He intended to run the black man into the ground,” Mr. Ricco said.

Outside the courtroom, a lawyer for Mr. Bell’s fiancée criticized Mr. Ricco’s statements. “In some ways, they played a race and class card today, and that’s unfortunate,” the lawyer, Michael Hardy, said.

Ms. Bell, who took her fiancée’s name after he was killed, was not at the club that night, but was called to the witness stand on Monday to describe her relationship with Mr. Bell, and its tragic end. She answered questions from Assistant District Attorney Peter T. Reese without tears, until he began asking about when she saw his body at a hospital that morning. She fidgeted with a tissue in her hands.

“Can you tell us where you saw him and what was his apparent physical condition?” Mr. Reese asked.

Ms. Bell, dressed in black, wept, and remained silent for several moments. She finally replied, “He was in the morgue.”

Testimony continued through the afternoon. A police crime scene analyst, Detective Brian Skelton, used photographs he took at Club Kalua, with its bar, dancer poles and small changing room, in describing the layout. A sign posted at the club’s front door and seen in one of the photographs — “Must Buy 1 Drink Every Half Hour” — led to further questions from the defense lawyers. But Mr. Reese, one of the prosecutors, suggested that the rule could include nonalcoholic drinks.

The last witness was Sean Spencer, 39, a bouncer at the club. He testified that he saw no argument involving Mr. Bell, but he conceded that he may have missed it. He said he heard 25 to 30 gunshots, then after a pause of 10 to 15 seconds, another burst of 25 to 30 shots.

John Eligon and Matthew Sweeney contributed reporting.

Past Coverage

(Articles courtesy of The New York Times: )

Flying Glass Fragments May Have Tricked Officers

Officers who shot at Sean Bell’s car may have believed they were under fire when their shots sent glass shards flying outward from the car.

April 8, 2008

Queens Trial: 50 Bullets and 2 Versions

Trials such as the one in the Sean Bell case have machines that come up with narratives that slouch toward reality, but never quite get there.

April 2, 2008
Dramatic Testimony From Bell Shooting Survivor

The man shot 16 times in the police gunfire that killed Sean Bell testified about hearing his friend’s last words.

Passenger in Sean Bell’s Car Recounts Shooting

Trent Benefield, who was in the back seat during the fatal shooting, told the court he saw a man standing in front of the car, pointing a pistol at Mr. Bell.

April 1, 2008

Defending Detective, Lawyer Feels the Heat

Anthony L. Ricco has been asked many questions and met much disapproval since taking up the defense of the three detectives who fired the first shots of a barrage that killed Sean Bell.

March 31, 2008

Survivors of 2006 Police Shooting Are Set to Testify

The accounts of two men who survived the police shooting that took Sean Bell’s life in 2006 were given to grand jurors last year, but have not been heard publicly.

March 31, 2008

Of 50 Bullets, Focus Falls on 3 Strays

The trial of detectives charged with Sean Bell’s killing was transformed into a virtual reality experience as the trajectories of bullets were displayed with three-dimensional computer images.

March 29, 2008

In 50-Shot Case, Sean Bell’s Eyesight Becomes an Issue

Medical testimony showing that Sean Bell’s vision was greatly impaired raised doubts about whether he was able to see detectives shields on the night of the shooting.

March 28, 2008

Gunfire Was Threatened, a Friend of Bell’s Testifies

A friend of Sean Bell’s testified on Tuesday not only that Mr. Bell argued with a stranger outside Club Kalua on the morning Mr. Bell was killed, but also that the stranger told Mr. Bell, “I’ll shoot you.”.

March 26, 2008

In Queens Trial, Detective’s Fear and 31 Bullets

Prosecutors have introduced the grand jury testimony of all three detectives on trial for the shooting of Sean Bell.

March 25, 2008

Trial’s Mystery Man Puts Argument in Doubt

A mysterious character in the Sean Bell police shooting shows up late and under cross-examination, answers questions with smart-aleck bravado.

March 24, 2008

A Snitch Like Me

Despite the glassy-eyed men and women who hung out on the street, it took a neighbor a while to realize that he lived opposite a crack house.

March 23, 2008


Uli Seit for The New York Times

Detective Gescard F. Isnora, right, arriving at the courthouse in Queens with Michael Palladino, president of the police detectives’ union, on Monday.

Published: March 21, 2008
An undercover detective, in detailed and at times apologetic grand jury testimony made public for the first time on Thursday, gave a second-by-second account of what led him to fire the first shots at Sean Bell’s car after, he said, Mr. Bell had ignored his orders to halt and had tried to run him over.


Retrieving a Hat, Then Trouble (March 21, 2008)

Detective Gescard F. Isnora’s Grand Jury Testimony PDF (Explicit Language Redacted)

While the 29-year-old detective, Gescard F. Isnora, described as a quiet and religious man, sat in silence on Thursday during his trial in State Supreme Court in Queens, the transcript of his testimony before a grand jury in March 2007 was read aloud. In his narrative of the fatal shooting outside a Queens nightclub on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006, he said he had shouted “Police!” several times, his badge clipped to the collar of his plainclothes sweater, and had thought that Mr. Bell’s front-seat passenger, Joseph Guzman, was pulling a gun from his own waistband.

Even in the testimony read aloud by a proxy on Thursday, the detective’s panic was clear as he approached Mr. Bell’s car with his gun drawn.

“I stated: ‘Police! Don’t move! Police! Don’t move!’ ” he said. “The driver floored the car and struck my leg.” He said he stumbled onto the sidewalk as Mr. Bell’s car continued forward, striking an unmarked police van, then backed up toward him. He jumped out of the way as the car backed into a storefront and charged forward again.

“I maintained focus on Guzman,” he said in his testimony. “I kept noticing he was going into his waistband.”

“I was watching the passenger side and I noticed he kept reaching into his waistband area and I kept saying: ‘Police! Don’t move!’ ” he said.

“I noticed that his arm was going up in an upward motion, and I yelled ‘Gun!’ and my mind, I felt that he had a gun and I couldn’t wait anymore. It happened so quick. It was like the last thing that I ever wanted to do.”

“I felt maybe if I waited a second longer, he would have fired at me,” he said. “I’m sorry, I am just — once I seen the arm go up, I fired. I yelled ‘Gun!’ and I fired.”

Four other officers on the scene also opened fire, and Mr. Bell died in a hail of 50 bullets. Mr. Guzman and a second passenger, Trent Benefield, were wounded. Besides Detective Isnora, two of those officers, both detectives, are on trial.

Previous witnesses, including friends of Mr. Bell’s who were standing nearby and police officers who were in a car several feet away from the scene near Club Kalua in Jamaica, have said they did not hear anyone shout “Police!” Other witnesses, both civilian and police, have said they heard shouts and commands, but not the actual words.

In his grand jury testimony, Detective Isnora said he emptied his pistol, which held 11 rounds. He said he did not hear any gunshots after his own, suggesting that the 39 other rounds fired by the four other officers began and ended while he was firing. One, Michael Oliver, fired 31, but Detective Isnora said he did not see him at the scene until after it was over.

Detectives Isnora and Oliver have been charged with manslaughter in Mr. Bell’s killing. The third detective, Marc Cooper, who fired four rounds, has been charged with reckless endangerment. Thursday marked the end of the fourth week of testimony in their trial before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Detective Isnora described for the grand jury the events at the beginning of the night, when he was undercover in the Club Kalua and believed that a man inside was armed. He left the club and overheard an argument between Mr. Bell and a stranger, during which he said he heard one of Mr. Bell’s friends say, “Get my gun.” He followed Mr. Bell and the others to Mr. Bell’s car.

In his testimony, Detective Isnora apologized four times to the grand jury for being “nervous,” and again when he had to repeat a profanity he had heard that night. He seemed to apologize for the shooting itself.

“Before I finish, I want to explain to you that in my time as an undercover, I had many dangerous situations where I have been robbed,” he said. “I never fired my weapon before. I never had any intentions in my career, actually, of even thinking of doing that.”

“I thought I had no choice that night,” he said.

“I pray for everything. I pray for all the individuals that night,” he said. “I wish the vehicle had stopped, you know, and I wouldn’t have been here, but I felt I had no choice.”

Mr. Guzman was severely wounded, but survived and is expected to testify, perhaps next week, as the prosecution’s case nears completion. No gun was found in Mr. Bell’s car.

After Detective Isnora told his version of the shooting without interruption, the grand jurors asked several questions, according to the transcript. One asked how the men could hear him shout “Police!” if they were in a car with the windows up.

“I was screaming,” Detective Isnora said.

A juror asked why he kept firing if no one in the car was firing back.

“Everything happened so quick,” he said. “It was a matter of seconds that all the rounds just went.”

Another asked how Detective Isnora could be sure that Mr. Bell did not mistake him for a friend of the man he had just argued with outside the club. “I am pretty sure that the distance from where I was, to where I was, you could see my shield,” he replied. He said he did not notice if any other officers shouted “Police!” or were wearing their badges after the shooting stopped.

A juror asked why he did not seek cover instead of firing.

“Well, if there was cover to be taken, I would have taken it,” the detective said. “I had the wall behind me. It was like a wide-open space. Where else could I go?”



Published: March 21, 2008
A hat cost Sean Bell his life. The encounters that escalated in the moments before he was killed by police officers began when he went back for what he had left behind at his bachelor party at the Club Kalua, one of Mr. Bell’s friends testified on Thursday.

“He left his hat,” said the friend, James Kollore, 32, one of several friends celebrating on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006.

Had Mr. Bell not returned to the club to retrieve it, he would not have been stopped at the door to the closed club.

He and his friends would not have overheard a perfect stranger, Fabio Coicou, mutter something about alcohol controlling them, and Mr. Bell would not have confronted Mr. Coicou in a manner the latter described as “chest to chest.”

There would not have been an exchange in which an undercover detective, Gescard F. Isnora, overheard someone from Mr. Bell’s group say he had a gun. The detective would not have followed Mr. Bell to his Nissan Altima, where Detective Isnora fired the first of 50 shots.

Mr. Kollore’s testimony at the trial of Detectives Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper put forth yet another version of the moments before the shooting, another snapshot — blurred here, sharp there.

On one major point of contention between the prosecution and defense, Mr. Kollore was clear: He said that Mr. Bell was in a heated argument with Mr. Coicou outside the club, and that Mr. Kollore believed the stranger was armed by the way he kept his hands in his pockets.

The testimony matched that of the police and other friends of Mr. Bell’s. Indeed, the only person to deny strongly that Mr. Coicou was in an argument has been Mr. Coicou, who described it on Wednesday as a pleasant exchange.



Pool photograph by Julia Xanthos

Fabio Coicou, with his head down, being escorted to the courtroom on Wednesday to testify in the trial of three detectives for the fatal shooting of Sean Bell in November 2006.

Published: March 20, 2008
A central figure in an encounter that took place moments before the shooting of Sean Bell testified on Wednesday that he did not argue with Mr. Bell outside a club and never heard anyone threaten to get a gun, contradicting the version of events given by the three detectives who are on trial in the killing of Mr. Bell.A pillar of the officers’ defense is the claim that undercover detectives witnessed an argument between Mr. Bell and Wednesday’s witness, Fabio Coicou, over a remark about Mr. Bell’s drunkenness, and that someone in Mr. Bell’s group said, “Go get my gun.”

Mr. Coicou, (pronounced kwah-COO), 30, testified that he never heard those words. Last year, however, he gave a different version of the event in meetings with Queens prosecutors and in appearances before a grand jury, a contradiction that was pointed out during cross-examination. A defense lawyer, Anthony L. Ricco, asked him if he remembered telling prosecutors in January 2007 that he heard someone say, “We’ll get the gat,” slang for a gun.

Mr. Coicou replied: “I don’t recall that. I don’t remember anyone saying that, and I don’t recall that statement.” He later said he did not even know what the word “gat” meant. The statements before the prosecutors from the Queens district attorney’s office were not made under oath.

The questioning by defense lawyers was heated and the witness hostile on the 15th day of the trial of the detectives, Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper.

“I’m not on trial,” Mr. Coicou said more than once. Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury, at times seemed irritated with Mr. Coicou, at one point ordering him to answer a question about a meeting with prosecutors.

Mr. Coicou’s appearance was much anticipated, if for nothing more than to provide a glance at the mysterious character widely known in the case as “the S.U.V. guy” or “the man in black.”

The exchange with Mr. Bell began outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, after Mr. Bell’s bachelor party, early in the morning of the day he was to be married. Witnesses have described Mr. Coicou as dressed all in black and standing with his hands in his pockets, as if he had a gun. Detective Isnora, working undercover that night, told grand jurors last year that he heard one of Mr. Bell’s friends say, “Go get my gun,” his lawyer has said. His partner that night, who has not been charged, testified that he heard the same statement, twice.

Two friends of Mr. Bell, Larenzo Kinred and Hugh Jensen, testified that they thought Mr. Coicou was armed or pretending to be.

But Mr. Coicou’s testimony on Wednesday disputed those accounts.

“I kept my hands in my pockets to demonstrate peace,” Mr. Coicou said.

The exchange began when Mr. Coicou, waiting beside his sport utility vehicle for his girlfriend, a dancer, to leave the club, said he saw Mr. Bell try to re-enter after Kalua had closed for the night.

“I said, ‘Alcohol has taken control of individuals,’ but I just mumbled it to myself,” Mr. Coicou testified. “Mr. Bell came to me and said alcohol had not taken control of him.”

The defense has described this exchange as heated, but Mr. Coicou said that the conversation ended soon afterward when they realized they were from the same part of Far Rockaway.

Mr. Coicou told Mr. Bell, “I got bread up in here,” referring to his girlfriend and the money she earned, he said. He said he noticed a bald man who did not seem to belong to the group, and suspected him of being an undercover officer. He later learned he was correct.

After the men walked away, Mr. Coicou said, he found himself alone in front of the club, and drove around the block. Last year, Mr. Coicou said he felt uneasy because several of the men were “peeking” at him and he thought “they were going to go get whatever to do whatever.”

But as he explained his actions on Wednesday, he said he never felt uneasy. “Let me just get out of here for a little bit, circle the block, come back around,” he said, recalling his thinking that morning.

When Mr. Coicou returned to his spot in front of Kalua, he stayed in his S.U.V. with the windows rolled up, he said, and did not hear the collision of Mr. Bell’s Nissan Altima and a police van or the 50 gunshots that followed. He said that he saw someone in tight jeans jump into bushes down the street but did not know why until his girlfriend came out of Kalua and said that someone had been shot.

In other testimony on Wednesday, the prosecution read from Detective Cooper’s grand jury testimony from March 7, 2007. In it, Detective Cooper said he believed he “fired one to three rounds” from his gun. On Tuesday, the prosecution recounted an interview the district attorney’s office had had with Detective Cooper on Jan. 9, 2007, in which he said he was certain he fired only one round. The police have said he fired four rounds.



Published: March 19, 2008
A detective who fired four rounds in the shooting that killed Sean Bell told investigators early on that he was certain he fired just one shot and that he had found the other unused bullets at home in a drawer, according to testimony by an assistant district attorney on Tuesday in the case of the three detectives who fired at Mr. Bell’s car.The statement by Detective Marc Cooper will most likely be called a lie by prosecutors and a simple mistake by his lawyer in arguments at the trial. Detective Cooper has since agreed that he fired four shots that morning, Nov. 25, 2006, according to the opening statement his lawyer, Paul Martin, gave last month.

But the assistant district attorney who was testifying, Michelle Cort, said on Tuesday that during Detective Cooper’s interview with members of the Queens district attorney’s office 45 days after the shooting, on Jan. 9, 2007, he said he fired one round. Ms. Cort, who was present at that interview, is not among the prosecutors in the trial.

She said that another assistant district attorney at the interview, Charles A. Testagrossa, told Detective Cooper that if his Glock had been fully loaded, as required by police regulations, he would have fired four rounds.

“Detective Cooper was certain that he only fired one time,” Ms. Cort testified, and that “he found the loose rounds in his home in a drawer.”

Detective Cooper said that he had a habit of unloading his Glock after work and reloading it the next day, and that he sometimes forgot to insert the round that had been in the chamber. “‘I may have two or three loose bullets,’” he said at the interview, according to Mr. Martin, his lawyer, on cross-examination.

The testimony came on the 14th day of the trial of Detectives Cooper, Gescard F. Isnora and Michael Oliver. Justice Arthur J. Cooperman is hearing the testimony without a jury.

Detective Cooper, in his interview, recounted the same version of events inside and outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, where he was part of an undercover operation to make prostitution or drug arrests. Shortly after 4 on that November morning, Detective Cooper and two other officers, Lt. Gary Napoli and Detective Paul Headley, drove onto Liverpool Street as Detective Isnora approached Mr. Bell and his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, at Mr. Bell’s car. Detective Isnora has told investigators he believed the men were armed.

Detective Cooper’s car drove past and stopped, and Detective Cooper said he heard a collision followed by gunfire.

Detective Cooper did not say he heard anyone shout “Police,” as defense lawyers have said Detective Isnora did, and that he had been wearing his badge but that he did not remember afterward whether other officers were wearing theirs, Ms. Cort said.

He said he opened the back passenger door of the Camry and stuck his right foot and right arm out, aimed his pistol and fired, Ms. Cort said. He said that he then saw Mr. Benefield, who was wounded, running away, and that since Mr. Benefield appeared unarmed, Detective Cooper holstered his pistol and chased him, Ms. Cort said.

The significance of his belief, more than a month after the shooting, that he had fired only one round, and his explanation about the rounds in his home, remains to be seen. Officers involved in shootings are often unable to state correctly how many shots they fired, and the three detectives on trial were no exception, according to earlier testimony by police officers.

Relatives of Mr. Bell were visibly disturbed by testimony on Tuesday from a criminalist who donned rubber gloves and gingerly handled the leather coat that Mr. Bell was wearing when he was shot.

Fifty shots were fired, and Mr. Bell was shot four times, but there were 14 bullet holes in the bulky coat, as some bullets may have passed through it without striking Mr. Bell, said the criminalist, Michelle Miranda. In the gallery, Mr. Bell’s father, William Bell, shook his head and could be heard murmuring to his wife, Valerie. As the testimony continued, there was more and more whispering among the Bell family’s supporters.

Finally, Mr. Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, who was to marry him on the day he was shot, rose and left the courtroom, opening the rear door with a slam. Mr. Bell’s parents and others rose to follow.

Outside the courthouse afterward, William Bell said the number of bullet holes in the clothes of his son and his friends seemed to speak volumes.

“What are they trying to do?” he said. “Destroy their bodies?”

“Any excuse they try to come up with or whatever, it’s no good to me,” he said. “I don’t want to hear it. My son is dead. Let’s talk about that.”



Published: March 18, 2008
In photographs, they are only thin, colorful tubes, as bright and harmless-looking as something from a child’s box of toys.

A photo of the front seat of Sean Bell’s car, introduced in the trial of three detectives in the killing of Mr. Bell, shows some of the rods used to plot the trajectories of the bullets the police fired.

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