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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Partying While Black
Posted by Jill | 3:05 PM


Police shooting leaves groom dead, two injured

November 26, 2006, 12:01 AM EST

In a fusillade of 50 gunshots, undercover police officers shot and killed a Queens man who had been celebrating at his bachelor's party and shot and injured two of his friends after the three left a Jamaica strip club early Saturday morning, police said.

Circumstances before and during the shooting, just after 4 a.m. near the Kalua Cabaret at 143-08 94th Ave. in Jamaica, remained murky late Saturday night.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, at a 7:30 p.m. news conference, said the shots were fired by five officers. Asked if the shootings were justified, he said, "We're not in a position to characterize the shooting at this time."

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said there "will be a full, fair and complete investigation of this incident. . . . I would urge everyone to withhold judgment as well until all the facts are known."

Sean Bell, 23, of Far Rockaway, who had planned to marry his longtime girlfriend in an Ozone Park restaurant Saturday night, was shot in the neck and arm. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he died.

Bell's two friends were at Mary Immaculate Hospital. Joseph Guzman, 31, who Kelly said has 11 gunshot wounds, was in critical condition. Trent Benfield, 23, was shot three times and was in stable condition. Both are from Queens.

None of the three were armed.

Two police officers were taken to local hospitals. One was treated and released for an abrasion to his right shin, and another was held for observation at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. Two Port Authority officers -- they worked at the AirTrain across the street, at the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica terminal -- were treated and released for minor facial injuries from flying glass from vehicles at the scene.

Throughout the day, family members, the Rev. Al Sharpton and local elected officials expressed outrage and bewilderment and called for answers.

"We don't want any cover-up on either side of this," Sharpton said Saturday night outside the Far Rockaway home that Bell shared with his fiancee, Nicole Paultre, 22, and their two young daughters. He said police had incomplete information and were presenting an incomplete version of events.

Sharpton said a prayer vigil and rally would be held Sunday at noon in a park across the street from Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica.

Police did not issue a report about the shooting, a departure from standard practice, and would make no official comment throughout the day.

"It's confusing as hell," said one police supervisor involved in the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officers -- all in plainclothes -- were part of a team led by a lieutenant, carrying out what the police supervisor described as a joint narcotics/vice operation targeting the club, he said.

The supervisor said police have interviewed cops who were there but did not fire their weapons. Their accounts conflict, he said.

"It's not intentional," the supervisor said. "It's just one guy saying he didn't see anything. Another guy saying he wasn't in position. Another guy saying he only heard things."

Kelly, at his news conference, said the Kalua club had been a hot spot for trouble. "It had a chronic history of narcotics, prostitution and weapons complaints," he said.

Just before the shooting, Kelly said, one undercover officer in the club overheard a dancer who worked there complaining to a man that a patron was bothering her. The man she complained to patted his waist, Kelly said.

"He said he would take care of the problem," the commissioner said.

The officer, believing the man was armed and trouble was imminent, left the club to warn his superior and other cops, Kelly said.

Outside, the undercover cop came upon a group of eight men who seemed to be harassing a lone man. One of the men in the group, whom Kelly identified as Guzman, said, "Yo, go get my gun." Another man, whom Kelly identified as Bell, said, "We're going to -- -- you up."

Next, Kelly said, the group of eight stopped harassing the lone man and split into two groups of four, with Bell, Guzman and Benfield and a fourth man heading to Liverpool Street to a car, a Nissan Altima. The undercover officer followed them on foot, he said.

In quick succession, Kelly said, the following happened: The four men got into the Nissan just as an unmarked police Toyota Camry passed them. The undercover cop crossed Liverpool from west to east and was standing in front of the Nissan. Then, an unmarked police Ford minivan rounded the corner from 94th Avenue onto Liverpool. The Nissan pulled forward, struck the undercover cop, scraping his shin, and then crashed into the minivan. The Nissan backed up and then struck the minivan again.

That's when the shooting started, Kelly said. Kelly and other police sources said the fourth man fled the scene.

Appearing with the commissioner at One Police Plaza were seven high-ranking NYPD officials. On one easel was a large photograph of the street where the shooting occurred, taken from overhead, and on another easel was a diagram of the scene.

"The reason all these executives are here is because we've been looking at the facts of the case all day," Kelly said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement after Kelly's news conference.

"Although it is too early to draw conclusions about this morning's shootings in Jamaica, Queens, we know that the NYPD officers on the scene had reason to believe that an altercation involving a firearm was about to happen and were trying to stop it," Bloomberg said. "Commissioner Kelly, Deputy Mayor Wolcott and I have been in touch with community leaders throughout the day to hear their concerns and update them on what we know, and we will keep them informed as this investigation continues."

That's Ray Kelly's story, and he's sticking with it.

The New York Post, a paper hardly known for siding with victims against cops, reports that not everyone thinks this shooting was justified:

One detective on the scene shook his head as he told The Post that the shooting was "a major screw-up."

Another cop later said, "It could be like the guy with the wallet" - referring to unarmed Bronx man Amadou Diallo, who in 1999 was hit by 19 of 41 bullets fired by cops as he grabbed for his wallet.


Among unanswered questions are:

* Why did Guzman spend half of yesterday handcuffed to his hospital bed?

* And why was Benefield shackled hand and foot to his?

Relatives said the two were initially placed under arrest, but the cuffs were removed after press inquiries.

Club photographer Roy Brown said the three friends were having a quiet, well-behaved evening at Kalua. He said they didn't have any drinks and were just enjoying the entertainment, at one point posing for pictures.

"They were just in there like the other guys, watching the girls, all having fun," he said. "None of them seemed drunk to me. They were just regular guys."

The New York Times account seems to indicate an uncontrolled hail of bullets:

Witnesses told of chaos, screams and a barrage of gunfire near Club Kalua at 143-08 94th Avenue in Jamaica about 4:15 a.m. after Mr. Bell and his friends walked out and got into their car. Mr. Bell drove the car half a block, turned a corner and struck a black unmarked police minivan bearing several plainclothes officers.

Mr. Bell’s car then backed up onto a sidewalk, hit a storefront’s rolled-down protective gate and nearly struck an undercover officer before shooting forward and slamming into the police van again, the police said.

In response, five police officers fired at least 50 rounds at the men’s car, a silver Nissan Altima; the bullets ripped into other cars and slammed through an apartment window near the shooting scene on Liverpool Street near 94th Avenue.


One neighbor said his car was hit by three bullets and a fourth smashed through his front window, piercing a lamp in the living room. “There was bullets all over the place,” said Paul Gomes, 31, who awoke to the barrage of gunfire and pulled his wife and children onto the floor.

Robert and Vivian Hernandez, residents of Liverpool Street, were watching television when they heard the crashing of bullets and people yelling. When the gunfire finally died down, they went outside and saw a man leaning on a fence and moaning, “They shot me in the leg.”

Mr. Kelly said that two Port Authority Police Officers suffered minor facial injuries at a nearby AirTrain facility when one of the bullets shattered a window.

Obviously I wasn't there, so I don't now what happened, but if you read between the anguish of the relatives and the CYA tendencies of the police, what you're left with is four guys, loaded up on testosterone and bravado, talking tough outside a club that's under investigation. Perhaps the driver was impaired, perhaps not. They hit what turned out to be an undercover police car, then panicked. I'm not 100% convinced that the shooting didn't start with the first impact.

Still, there's nothing here that warrants summary execution by the police in a hail of 50 bullets. And you have a unarmed 23-year-old man, who was about to do what even George W. Bush thinks he should do and marry the mother of his children, and because he has his bachelor party in a club that's under investigation, fifty bullets are pumped into his car, and he sustains fatal injuries from anywhere from eight to seventeen of them. I'm sorry, but regardless of the situation, there's no justification for this.

How many times is this going to happen? And Republicans wonder why black Americans look at them incredulously when they say that racism no longer exists in this country?
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