- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Three police officers surrendered yesterday to face charges in a shooting that killed an unarmed groom on his wedding day and stirred outrage across the city.

The officers were accused of firing nearly 50 shots at three young men in a car outside a nightclub, killing Sean Bell and seriously wounding two of his friends. Two other officers involved were not indicted.

The eight-count indictment charges Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, a decorated undercover officer who fired 11 shots, with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said yesterday.

Those charges are classified as violent felonies with mandated jail time if the men are convicted. The maximum punishment for manslaughter is 25 years, Mr. Brown said.

Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, faces a misdemeanor endangerment charge, Mr. Brown said. The indictment states that he fired a bullet that went through the window of an occupied train station.

Detective Oliver also was charged with endangerment in connection with a bullet that went through the window of an occupied house. All three were suspended without pay.

The two policemen not charged have been placed on desk duty along with their supervisor as the New York Police Department continues its internal investigation.

“We are a long way from a conviction,” said Philip Karasyk, a lawyer who represents Detective Isnora.

The case renewed charges that the NYPD is trigger-happy, as well as accusations of racism. Mr. Bell was black, as are the other victims; three of the officers are black, and two are white.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said at a press conference with the wounded men and Mr. Bell’s fiance that the indictment “falls short of what we want. Clearly, all five officers should be charged; all officers acted in concert.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg acknowledged that some people would be disappointed in the grand jury’s decision.

“We have to respect the result of our justice system,” he said. “Although a trial will decide whether crimes were committed in this case, day in and day out the NYPD does an incredible job under very difficult circumstances.”

The three policemen surrendered to the NYPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs yesterday, then were whisked to the Queens court complex. A phalanx of plainclothes law enforcers and family members surrounded them as they were rushed into the building for fingerprinting and processing.

Later, all three pleaded not guilty at their arraignment. Mr. Sharpton was present in the courtroom, along with shooting survivors Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.

Mr. Bell was killed Nov. 25 as he left his bachelor party.

Police have said the officers were involved in an undercover investigation at the nightclub when they overheard a conversation that convinced them the men were going to their car to retrieve a gun. They have said that Mr. Bell’s car hit an unmarked police vehicle and that the officers thought someone in Mr. Bell’s car was reaching for a gun when they opened fire. No gun was found.

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