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NYPD officers charged with manslaughter in groom's death

The two plead not guilty in Sean Bell's killing. A third faces a misdemeanor charge.

March 20, 2007|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Two officers charged with killing an unarmed man in a flurry of bullets on his wedding day pleaded not guilty Monday in a case that led to widespread rallies against police brutality.

The charges were announced after a grand jury last week voted to indict three of the five officers involved in the shooting of Sean Bell, 23.

Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 shots, are accused of first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, they could serve up to 25 years in prison, Queens Dist. Atty. Richard Brown said at a news conference.

The two officers also are charged with assault and reckless endangerment in the wounding of Bell's friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31. Oliver also faces a reckless endangerment charge for firing a shot through a residence.

The third officer, Det. Marc Cooper, faces one year in prison if convicted of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. He is accused of endangering people by firing four shots on a street and through the window of a train station. He too has pleaded not guilty.

At their arraignment Monday, a judge set bail for Oliver and Isnora at $250,000 in the form of a bond or $100,000 in cash. Cooper was released without bail.

"This was a case that was, I'm sure, not easy for [the grand jury] to resolve. But they did so, in my judgment, in a conscientious fashion," Brown said. "And now we've got to try this case."

Michael Palladino, president of the New York detectives union, called the charges excessive. "It sends a very chilling message to all of law enforcement," he said. "If they can't get it done in three shots or less, [they're] in trouble."

Two officers who fired three shots or less were not indicted. Police are instructed to fire three shots, pause and reassess.

Appearing with Benefield, Guzman and Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, before the arraignment, the Rev. Al Sharpton said all five officers should have been charged.

Bell, who was black, was killed around 4 a.m. Nov. 25 outside a strip club where he was attending his bachelor party. The officers have said they thought he and his friends were armed. Police later searched Bell's car and found no gun.

Sharpton said Monday that the case is not about racism, since two of the indicted officers are black and one is white. "Clearly the people in this city have said no matter who is the police and no matter who the victim, we want one standard of justice," he said.

Isnora's lawyer said his client's mood on Monday was somber -- and he charged that activists had used the case to "vilify and crucify police at every turn."

"We are going to do every single thing within our power," Philip Karasyk said, "to ensure that these officers are vindicated."

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erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

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