- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Three of the five policemen whose 50-bullet barrage killed an unarmed man on his wedding day were indicted yesterday in a case that heightened racial tensions and renewed accusations that the city’s officers are too fast to pull the trigger.

Attorneys for Officers Marc Cooper, Gerscard Isnora and Michael Oliver said their clients had been indicted, but they did not know what offenses they had been charged with.

The three fired the most shots — Officer Cooper, 4, Officer Isnora, 11, and Officer Oliver, 31 — in the Nov. 25 confrontation that killed 23-year-old Sean Bell and wounded two of his friends as they left Mr. Bell’s bachelor party at a strip club in Queens.

The shooting stirred outrage in New York City and led to accusations of racism against police. Mr. Bell was black, as are two of his friends who were wounded in the shooting. Two of the officers are white and three are black.

District Attorney Richard A. Brown said only that the grand jury had reached a decision and that it would be announced Monday. He gave no reason for the delay, but indictments often are kept sealed until attorneys and their clients are notified and arrangements can be made for the defendants to surrender.

A person familiar with the case told the Associated Press that the other two officers in the shooting were not charged. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the grand jury’s decision has not been made public.

Police union officials defended the officers, arguing they were responding to reasonable suspicions the victims were armed.

“There was no criminality in their hearts, nor in their minds, when they took the actions they took,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association.

The grand jury’s decision occurred after three days of deliberations.

Anticipation about the grand jury’s decision has been running high in New York City. Extra police officers were put on standby, and the mayor met with black leaders in the Queens neighborhood where the shooting occurred in hopes of defusing any tensions that might arise from the decision.

“Whatever the grand jury says … I think you will see the people of this city behaving in an exemplary manner,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday. “They can be disappointed, they can express themselves — that’s freedom of speech, I don’t have a problem with that. But nobody is going to go out and make our streets unsafe.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the charges marked an important first step in the fight for justice in the case.

“Since November 25th, we have battled together. Today is a major step in that battle, whether it will be a step forward, time will tell. But one thing that we can say, if you stay together and you fight, you can do what is necessary to protect children,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Grand jurors had been instructed to consider several charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide stemming from Mr. Bell’s death; and attempted murder, assault or reckless endangerment in the wounding of survivors Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.

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