Wedding-day shooting of man by police stirs outcry

November 26, 2006|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK --Hours before he was to be married, a man leaving his bachelor party at a strip club in Queens that was under police surveillance was fatally shot and two of his friends were wounded, one critically, when police fired into their car early yesterday, witnesses and the police said.

Many details of the shootings were not immediately clarified, but relatives of the slain man, Sean Bell, 23, and community leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, demanded an investigation into what some called an overreaction by officers that left a man dead on his wedding day.

Witnesses told of chaos, screams and gunfire near the Kalua Cabaret about 4 a.m. as the victims walked out, got into their car, a silver Nissan Altima, drove about a block and struck an unmarked police minivan carrying plainclothes officers.

The car then backed up, nearly hitting an undercover officer, and finally shot forward, slamming again into the police minivan.

The police response, witnesses said, was a fusillade of bullets by five officers that riddled the victims' car, struck other cars and slammed through the window of an apartment near the shooting at Liverpool Street and 95th Avenue. It was not clear how many shots were fired. One witness estimated at least 30.

As many as eight officers might have been involved in the shooting, Sgt. Mike Wysokowski, a Police Department spokesman, told the Associated Press. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at least three officers were injured, the AP reported.

Kelly said it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified.

Shell casings littered the street; an investigator had marked one of them "45."

Police said little about the deadly incident other than that the shooting stemmed from an undercover operation inside the club, according to the AP. Officers were "observing a group that later got into a confrontation with backup officers outside," said a police official, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed.

Bell, who was to have been married to Nicole Paultre at 5 p.m. yesterday, was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The two wounded men, Joseph Guzman, 21, and Trent Benefield, 23, were taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, where Guzman was listed in critical condition.

Relatives of Guzman and Benefield said that both men had been arrested, that Guzman had been shot 17 times, that Benefield had been handcuffed at the scene and that both men had been handcuffed to their hospital beds.

The police declined to say whether charges had been filed and gave few details about what happened, calling it a matter under investigation.

"This is a shocking case," Sharpton, a civil rights leader who has often protested police actions in high-profile and racially charged cases, said at an afternoon news conference outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, his second of the day.

He was flanked by relatives and friends of the victims, mostly somber and some sobbing.

Paultre and Bell, who lived together and had been sweethearts since high school, had two daughters.

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