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Bell shooters await verdict

TimesLedger Newspapers

The fates of two of the officers who killed Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets is now in the hands of the police commissioner, and the Rockaway bridegroom’s family is urging him to give them justice.

The NYPD departmental hearing against Detective Gescard Isnora and Officer Michael Carey ended Nov. 2 with their attorneys making their cases and the special counsel for the department summing up her version of the incident before the judge.

Isnora, who fired first during the Nov. 25, 2006 incident and delivered 11 shots, and Carey, who fired three bullets, have been accused of violating departmental guidelines when they shot Bell and his two friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were mistakenly believed to have been armed.

Special NYPD counsel Nancy Slater suggested to Judge Martin Karopkin that Isnora be immediately terminated from the force while she contended Carey should lose 30 days’ pay in the trial at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan.

“While his choices are not criminal in any way, his choices and actions show he cannot be a member of the department,” she said of Isnora during her closing arguments.

The judge will make a recommendation to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who ultimately will make a decision about Isnora and Carey’s status with the department.

Both sides re-enacted the events of the night at the now-defunct Jamaica strip club, the Kalua Cabaret, where Bell was having his bachelor party. The undercover police were investigating suspected drug and prostitution rings that were taking place inside the club.

Isnora observed Bell and his friends getting into a heated argument with another patron and he testified that he heard Guzman yell that he was going to get his gun. Isnora called for backup as he followed Bell, Guzman and Benefield to the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, where Bell’s car was parked.

The detective and an unmarked police minivan approached the car and Bell rammed his car into the police vehicle twice. Isnora, Carey and three other officers fired at the car, killing Bell instantly and seriously wounding the other two men.

No weapon belonging to the three young men was ever found at the scene.

Philip Karasyk, Isnora’s attorney, told the judge the detective was justified in discharging his gun because he strongly believed he and his team were in danger.

“Had Sean Bell placed his foot on the brake, none of us would be here today,” he said.

Carey’s attorney, Stephen Worth, agreed and said his client used his gun only to protect his comrades.

“Officer Carey opened fire only at the last possible second,” he said.

Slater, however, criticized both officers for not looking before they leapt. She said the argument that aroused Isnora’s suspicions had de-escalated at that point and he should not have had his gun drawn nor should he have come out of his undercover role when he approached Bell’s car.

“You can search the entire record and there is no reason for Detective Isnora to put on his shield except fear,” she said.

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

Oliver and Cooper were negotiating with the NYPD on their retirement and Headley has left the force, according to the Detectives Endowment Association.

Bell’s fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell, who won millions from the city in a settlement for a wrongful death lawsuit, said she was confident the officers would be penalized for their actions.

“I think these officers have shown they can’t be trusted on the force,” she said outside police headquarters following the hearing.

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

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