U.S. News

No rights charge against NY police in 50-shot death

A man wears a Sean Bell shirt at a demonstration near New York Police headquarters in lower Manhattan May 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Several New York City police officers who killed an unarmed black man in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day will not face criminal civil rights charges, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Sean Bell, 23, was killed and two friends injured outside a strip club after his bachelor party in November 2006. His death outraged New York’s black community, who contended that no white suspect would have been shot so many times, if at all.

In April 2008, a New York state judge cleared two of the officers of manslaughter and a third of reckless endangerment. Federal authorities then launched a separate investigation that could have brought civil rights charges against the officers.

“After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the law enforcement personnel who fired at Bell ... acted willfully,” the Justice Department said.

“Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed,” it said.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, highly critical of the police, said he had spoken to Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday and expressed his “extreme disappointment” at the decision.

“Even though two of the three officers in question were black, we will not stop our pursuit of justice in this matter until every measure in the criminal and civil arena has been exhausted. Fifty shots on an unarmed man who engaged in no crime is intolerable,” he said in a statement.

On the night of the shooting, the undercover officer who fired first, had followed Bell and his two friends to Bell’s car believing they went to fetch a gun to settle a dispute at the strip club. The police officer opened fire after being grazed by the car as Bell attempted to drive away.

Several other officers reached Bell’s car after the initial confrontation and said they believed the undercover officer was being fired at from inside the vehicle.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Philip Barbara