City Settles With Bell Heirs, Pals
New York City has agreed to pay more than $7 million to settle the civil suits arising from the fatal shooting of Rockaway resident Sean Bell and the wounding of two of his friends in a 2006 incident outside a strip club in Jamaica, Queens.
A Brooklyn federal judge signed off on the deal Tuesday, closing the book on the racially-charged case in which cops fired 50 shots at the car in which Bell and his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were riding.
As a result of the settlement, Bell’s estate will get $3.25 million; Guzman will get $3 million and Benefield will get $900,000.
“The Sean Bell shooting highlighted the complexities our dedicated [police] officers must face each day,” said Michael Cardozo, the city’s Corporation Counsel. “The city regrets the loss of life in this tragic case, and we share our deepest condolences with the Bell family. The city is also settling claims with Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield. We hope that all parties can find some measure of closure by this settlement.”
Bell and his friends were at a strip club celebrating his wedding, which was to take place the next day, November 26, 2006. The undercover police officers involved in the shooting were found not guilty in a bench trial in April of 2008. The cops testified that they overheard Bell and his friends talking about having a weapon after an altercation inside the bar.
The officers said that they tried to stop Bell and his friends as they attempted to drive away, but that Bell, who was driving, aimed his car at the cops and smashed into their van.
Federal authorities declined to prosecute the officers for civil rights violations. His fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, who took his name after the slaying, told reporters that the settlement was “fair.” She added, however, “no amount of money will provide closure.”
The police department had no comment on the settlement, but the deal was called “absurd” by the head of the detectives’ union. “The taxpayer is on the hook for $7 million and the lawyers walk away with $2 million and the one with the most culpability is Sean Bell,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that picture.” Bell’s only heirs, according to a lawyer connected to the case, are his kids, Jada, 7, and Jordyn, 4.