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NYPD opens Bell cops’ trial

Detective Gescard Isnora (third from r.) and his former partner are facing NYPD departmental charges for their role in the death of Sean Bell. Pool Photo, Jesse Ward
TimesLedger Newspapers

Two of the officers who opened fire at Sean Bell defended their actions again Monday at the start of their NYPD disciplinary trial.

Detective Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 of the 50 shots that killed the Far Rockaway bridegroom nearly five years ago, and Officer Michael Carey, who fired three shots, were charged by the NYPD with violating departmental guidelines during the incident.

The officers and three other members of the undercover team shot Bell and two of his friends outside a Jamaica strip club after they mistakenly thought one of them had a gun and was going to use it following an argument during the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2006 — Bell’s wedding day.

An NYPD attorney told the administrative judge that both men acted recklessly when trying to get to the bottom of the situation, the Associated Press reported.

But Isnora’s attorney, Philip Karasyk, laid blame on Bell, who was intoxicated and rammed an unmarked police minivan before the officers opened fire, according to the AP.

If Bell “had just put his foot on the brake instead of the accelerator, none of us would be here today,” Karasyk said, according to the AP.

Isnora, Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 shots and reloaded, and Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, were acquitted in a bench trial in 2008 on reckless endangerment and manslaughter charges in Bell’s death. Carey and Detective Paul Headley, who fired the remaining shot, were not criminally charged.

All officers were placed on modified duty following their indictments.

Isnora and Cooper are negotiating plea deals in their disciplinary hearings, according to the AP and the Detectives Endowment Association.

Bell’s death set off a series of protests around the city, where people called for a change in police policy. The Police Department eventually made changes to the way it conducts its operations, including mandatory alcohol testing for any officer who fires a weapon.

Bell’s fiancee and the mother of his two daughters, Nicole Paultre-Bell, attended the hearings along with his parents and called for justice.

She and the two other victims of the shooting, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who was hospitalized for weeks following the incident, were awarded $3.25 million last year by the city in a settlement over a wrongful death lawsuit.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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