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U.S. News

NY police charge seven officers in groom shooting

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Seven New York police officers involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man on his wedding night are facing internal disciplinary action, a police spokesman said on Tuesday.

Protesters carrying signs representing 50 bullets on the first day of the trial of New York City police officers charged in the shooting of Sean Bell, outside the courthouse in Queens, New York, February 25, 2008. Seven New York police officers involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man on his wedding night are facing internal disciplinary action, a police spokesman said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Chip East

All seven men are due to face hearings, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.

A month ago a New York state judge cleared two officers of manslaughter and a third of reckless endangerment in the death of Sean Bell, 23, who was shot, along with two friends, after a bachelor party at a strip club in November 2006.

Those three officers -- Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper -- were all served with administrative charges in 2007 that mirrored the criminal charges, Browne said.

Gary Napoli, the commanding officer on the night of the shooting, faces charges for failing to supervise the operation, Browne said. Michael Carey, who fired three shots, is charged with firing his gun outside department guidelines.

Two crime scene detectives, Sergeant Hugh McNeil and Detective Robert Knapp, were charged for their actions in the aftermath of the shooting.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, highly critical of the police and influential in New York’s black community, called the move “a step in the right direction” but expressed regret that none of the officers had lost their jobs.

“There must be no tolerance for crime but also no tolerance for police misconduct and the New York Police Department must send a strong, firm signal that that is the case,” Sharpton said in a statement.

The Justice Department, federal prosecutors and the FBI are now reviewing the case and could take legal action if investigators suspect a violation of federal civil rights laws.

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

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

The eight-week trial centered on whether the detectives had reason to believe they faced imminent danger and whether they made it clear to Bell and the two survivors that they were police officers.

State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman, who heard the case after the detectives waived their right to a jury trial, gave credibility to the detectives’ statements that they believed they were in danger.

“Questions of carelessness and incompetence must be left to other forums,” Cooperman said at the time.

Editing by Michelle Nichols

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