2010-02-19 / Top Stories

Feds Decline To Prosecute Bell Cops

By Howard Schwach

Far Rockaway resident Sean Bell with his fiancée, Nicole Paultry, and their daughter just before he was shot and killed by undercover cops. Far Rockaway resident Sean Bell with his fiancée, Nicole Paultry, and their daughter just before he was shot and killed by undercover cops. Federal authorities have declined to prosecute the police officers who winged 50 shots at Rockaway resident Sean Bell and two of his friends in Jamaica in November of 2006.

Prosecutors said in a prepared statement that there was “insufficient evidence” that the cops violated Bell’s civil rights when they unloaded on a car carrying Bell and his friends, who were leaving Bell’s bachelor party at a Jamaica strip club.

Three of the five cops involved in the shooting were tried and acquitted of charges related to the shooting in a bench trial in 2008.

The five now face departmental charges in connection with the shooting. They remain on modified assignment and have been stripped of their guns and enforcement ability since the original incident.

Prosecutors said that there was an independent investigation that showed that federal charges would have been inappropriate.

“Prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a law-enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with a deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the Justice Department statement said. “Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.”

Bell, 23, and two of his friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, were confronted by a team of undercover cops who said that they believed that the trio had a gun and was planning to use it on a man with whom they had a confrontation inside the club.

Cops said that Bell, drunk and driving the car, had tried to run them down before they opened fire.

No gun was ever recovered.

Nicole Paultry-Bell, who was to marry Sean the next morning and who later took his name, said, “What kind of message are they sending kids? It’s open season and [the cops] can do anything they want.”

“This is not the first time we’ve been let down,” she told reporters. “It’s just happening all over again. Everybody deserves justice. I was disappointed. It was like a replay of what happened.”

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