- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — The fiancee of an unarmed man fatally shot by police on his wedding day said yesterday that “the justice system let me down” when the three detectives were acquitted of all charges in his killing.

“April 25, 2008: They killed Sean all over again,” Nicole Paultre Bell softly told hundreds of people gathered at the headquarters of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “That’s what it felt like to us.”

Miss Paultre Bell, in her first public remarks since storming out of a courtroom Friday after the detectives were cleared in 23-year-old Sean Bell’s killing, said she would seek another decision in the case.

“I’m still praying for justice because it’s not over,” she said.

Joseph Guzman, who was wounded in the barrage of 50 police gunshots outside a Queens strip club on Mr. Bell’s wedding day in 2006, also spoke for the first time since the verdict Friday to supporters at Mr. Sharpton’s Harlem offices.

“We’ve got a long fight,” he said. “We’re still in it. … We’re going to struggle. We’re going to get through.”

Later, Mr. Bell’s family, Mr. Guzman and Mr. Sharpton joined more than 300 people marching through more than 20 blocks in Harlem. Fifty demonstrators carried white placards bearing numbers for the shots fired at Mr. Bell and his friends.

Mr. Sharpton lambasted the judge who acquitted the detectives, saying a jury should been seated to decide guilt or innocence. Mr. Sharpton has threatened to “shut the city down” with organized civil disobedience.

In his ruling Friday, Justice Arthur Cooperman said inconsistent testimony, courtroom demeanor and rap sheets of the prosecution witnesses — mainly Mr. Bell’s friends — “had the effect of eviscerating” their credibility.

“At times, the testimony just didn’t make sense,” the judge said.

The verdict elicited gasps as well as tears of joy and sorrow. Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 of the shots, wept at the defense table, while Mr. Bell’s mother cried in the packed courtroom.

Protests followed later Friday, and police said two demonstrators were arrested near the scene of the shooting. One was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, the other on a charge of obstructing governmental administration, police said.

Officer Oliver and Gescard Isnora were acquitted of charges that included manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. The third officer, Marc Cooper, faced lesser charges.

After the verdict, the police officers gave brief statements without taking questions. “I’d like to say sorry to the Bell family for the tragedy,” an emotional Officer Cooper said.

Mr. Bell was killed outside the strip club as he was leaving his bachelor party. The officers — undercover detectives who were investigating reports of prostitution at the club — said they thought one of the men had a gun.

The slaying heightened tensions in the city and stoked long-standing accusations of racism and excessive use of force by police, even though two of the officers charged are black.

The officers complained that pretrial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers.

After the verdict, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it would look into the case and “take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes.”

In addition, relatives of the victims have sued the city. The officers, who had been on paid leave, also face possible departmental charges that could result in their firing.

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