April 26, 2008 / 1:29 AM / 12 years ago

NY police cleared in 50-bullet wedding day shooting

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three New York City police detectives were acquitted on Friday in the killing of an unarmed black man in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day -- prompting angry demonstrations and a federal review.

Protesters march along Queens Blvd after the three detectives in the shooting death of Sean Bell were found not guilty in New York City, April 25, 2008. The detectives were found not guilty on Friday in the shooting death of unarmed black man Bell killed in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day, prompting angry reactions and a federal review of the case. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

A New York state judge cleared two officers of manslaughter and a third of reckless endangerment in the death of Sean Bell, 23, who was shot, along with two friends, after a bachelor party at a strip club in November 2006.

Federal authorities said they would consider civil rights charges under a review by the Justice Department, federal prosecutors and the FBI.

They will "take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation" of federal civil rights laws, the Justice Department said in a statement.

After the verdict, hundreds of demonstrators yelled, pushed and shoved as police, reporters and spectators packed the sidewalk outside the court building in the borough of Queens.

"They're murderers, criminals, and they are going to rot in hell where they belong," one man shouted.

Later, about 1,000 people marched from the courthouse to the site of the shooting, pumping fists, shouting "Justice for Sean Bell. NYPD go to hell" and counting from 1 to 50.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed for calm.

"We don't expect violence or law-breaking, nor is there any place for it," Bloomberg said.

'CLOSE THE CITY DOWN'

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, highly critical of the police and influential in New York's black community, called for wider protests.

"They want us to act crazy so they would have an excuse to do more," Sharpton said on his radio show. "We are going to be strategic. We are going to close the city down in a non-violent, effective way."

The killing of the groom and wounding of his two friends on Bell's wedding day, with 50 shots fired at the unarmed men, outraged New York's black community.

In a similar case nearly a decade ago, four police officers who fired 41 shots were acquitted in the death of an unarmed West African man, Amadou Diallo.

"It shows that there is no justice in America for the black man," said B.M. Marcus, a community organizer. "This is telling us the cops can do whatever they want and get away with it."

Gescard Isnora, a black Hispanic undercover officer who fired first, said he followed Bell and his friends to Bell's car believing they were getting a gun to settle a dispute at the club. Isnora said he opened fire after being grazed by Bell's car as the men tried to drive away.

The other officers -- one black and one white -- arrived after the initial confrontation and said they believed Isnora was being fired at from inside the car.

APOLOGY

The officers gave brief statements thanking their friends and families.

"I'd like to say sorry to the Bell family for the tragedy," said Marc Cooper, who was charged with reckless endangerment.

Isnora and Mike Oliver were charged with manslaughter.

The three waived their right to a jury trial in favor of a judge. Defense lawyers said jurors in Queens were likely to be biased against the officers due to intense media coverage of the case.

Slideshow (26 Images)

State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman suggested the officers acted poorly but said their actions were less than criminal.

"Questions of carelessness and incompetence must be left to other forums," he said.

The judge said some prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves from prior statements and may have had motivation to lie. Bell's fiancee and the two survivors of the shooting have sued the city in a civil case.

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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