New York City (Posted on March 19, 2007)-The Rev. Al Sharpton called for calm minutes after the Queens District Attorney announced the charges against three police detectives involved in the November shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 bullets on his wedding day.
For three months the Grand jury deliberated, and the community waited in anticipation for a decision on whether charges would be brought against the police officers.
On Monday morning, an eight-count indictment officially charged detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 shots with manslaughter. A third man, Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, faces two misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges.
"This case, at its best, is a return to grief for all of those involved," said Sharpton, speaking before a crowd of journalists from a stage inside his Harlem headquarters. "Nicole Paultre, as she prepared for her wedding, was given the news that her fiancé had been shot dead; the father of her two children. So, in no way will there be a call for joy, celebration or revenge for this young lady, for her family and loved ones."
Joseph Guzman, one of the three unarmed men shot that night, looked stoic as he held onto his crutches and sat to the right of Sharpton. Sitting on Sharpton's left, was a solemn-faced Paultre Bell, who wiped away tears as she watched the charges being announced on television.
"Clearly, in our judgment, all five officers should have been charged," Sharpton said. He added that he believes there was enough evidence to charge the men with murder and attempted murder.
Oliver and Isnora were charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The charge of first-degree manslaughter is considered a felony and, if convicted, the officers face jail time. The maximum punishment is 25 years. In the second-degree manslaughter charge, a judge has the right to sentence a defendant to probation. Cooper faces a year in prison.
The detectives were arraigned Monday afternoon. All three pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash for Oliver and Isnora, while Cooper was released without bail.
The tragedy began in the early hours of Bell's wedding day on November 25. Bell and his friends were attending his bachelor's party at a Queens strip club. Undercover officers were also inside the club. When Bell and his party left, the two groups converged outside and 50 shots were fired at Bell and his friends - all unarmed. Guzman, 31, and another friend, Trent Benefield, 23, were also shot multiple times that morning.
In response to charges that Sharpton has been divisive in this particular case, the civil rights activist pointed out that two of the three indicted police officers were people of color and that he was as critical of them as he would have been if all of the officers were White.
"The community has said no matter who the police are, no matter who the victim is," said Sharpton, "we want one standard of justice. And this Grand jury, at least to some degree, has said that."
Talk about it: Do you think that the charges filed against the three officers fit the crime? Do you think that they will actually spend any time in prison?
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Paultre Bell
Sean, Nicole and daughter, Jada.