3 Officers Indicted In Groom Shooting
POSTED: 11:35 am EDT March 15, 2007
UPDATED: 6:47 pm EDT March 16, 2007
Three of five officers involved in a 50-bullet shooting that left a man dead on his wedding day have been indicted.
The grand jury decided to bring charges against Officer Marc Cooper, 39, Detective Michael Oliver, 35, and Undercover Officer Gescard Isnora, 28.
The exact charges are unknown and will not be unsealed until Monday. However, sources close to the case said they increasingly believe detectives Oliver and Isnora will face manslaughter 2 charges, defined as "recklessly causing the death of another."
Sources also said they believe Cooper may face charges of reckless endangerment, defined as reckless conduct that would cause injury or death.
Oliver fired 31 shots in the incident by reloading and emptying his 9mm pistol. Isnora fired 11 shots, and Cooper fired four shots.
"He has been indicted. He has been asked to surrender on Monday," said attorney Paul Martin, who represents Cooper. He did not know what charges were brought against Cooper.
The lawyer for Isnora also said his client was indicted. "He is very upset, but he is confident that once he has his day in court he will be vindicated," Isnora attorney Philip Karasyk told The Associated Press.
"I am disappointed my client was indicted. But it was not unexpected given the forum we are in," said Oliver's lawyer, James Culleton.
It was not immediately known if other officers were also charged.
The decision came nearly four months after Sean Bell, 23, was shot and killed and two of his friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, were wounded. The shooting occurred outside the Kalua Cabaret, a topless bar where Bell was celebrating his bachelor party.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said the charges marked an important first step in the fight for justice in the case.
"Since Nov. 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 necesary to protect children," Sharpton said at a news conference.
The decision follows three days of grand jury deliberations that had New York City on edge. Extra police officers were put on standby and the mayor met with black leaders in the Queens neighborhood where shooting occurred in hopes of defusing any tensions that might arise from the decision.
The case also brought back painful memories of other infamous police shootings in New York City, including the killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999. The officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges.
Police union officials defended the officers in the current case, arguing they were responding to reasonable suspicions the victims were armed and dangerous. The victims were black; three of the officers are black and two white.
Under state law, police can use deadly force if they have a "reasonable" belief that their lives or those of civilians are in immediate danger, even if that belief is mistaken.
"There was no criminality in their hearts, nor in their minds, when they took the actions they took," Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, said before the grand jurors' decision was revealed.
The grand jurors had been instructed to consider several charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide stemming from Bell's death; and attempted murder, assault or reckless endangerment in the wounding of Benefield and Guzman.
The deliberations were interrupted at one point after the emergence of a last-minute witness, whose story seemed to back up the officers' claim that they were justified in opening fire. But the credibility of the witness was not known.
The five officers were among the more than 60 witnesses who testified before the grand jury. Benefield and Guzman also gave their version, insisting the officers fired without warning.