Judge recommends Bell cop be removed from force

TimesLedger Newspapers

An NYPD judge has recommended that the detective whose actions started the 50-shot barrage that killed Sean Bell five years ago be removed from the force for violating the department’s procedures during the incident.

The NYPD departmental ruling against Detective Gescard Isnora came down on Wednesday and has been sent to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who will make the final decision, according to the NYPD.

Deputy Commissioner Martin Karopkin, acting as the trial judge, concluded that Isnora, who fired the first shots, acted recklessly and unnecessarily put lives in danger when he dropped his role as an undercover officer and aimed 11 bullets at Bell and his two friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield on Nov. 25, 2006 outside a Jamaica strip club.

The judge did not recommend any disciplinary action against Isnora’s partner, Michael Carey, who was his co-defendant in a month long NYPD disciplinary trial in October.

Bell’s supporters praised the judge’s ruling and said they will be pushing for Kelly to follow through, especially since Isnora and two other officers involved in the shooting were acquitted on criminal charges in a bench trial in Queens three years ago.

“For the judge to find Detective Gescard Isnora reckless in triggering what occurred is to remove the attempt by the defenders of the police to put the blame on the victims as was attempted with malice throughout the criminal trial,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement.

Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, who held an overnight vigil Friday at the scene of the shooting to mark its fifth anniversary, was expected to make comments at a news conference Thursday afternoon at Sharpton’s Harlem headquarters, according to her attorney.

During a vigil to mark the five-year anniversary of Bell’s death, she said Isnora needed to removed from the force.

“He put everybody else in danger. There has to be accountability taking place,” she said. “It only makes sense.”

The Detectives Endowment Association did not return phone calls asking for comment by Thursday morning.

Bell was celebrating his bachelor party the night before his wedding at the Kalua Cabaret, which was being investigated by undercover police officers for suspected drug and prostitution operations.

Isnora claimed he saw Guzman get into an argument outside the club during the early morning hours and heard Bell’s friend say he was going to get a gun. The detective called for backup and followed Bell, Guzman and Benefield to the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, where Bell had his car parked, and soon an unmarked police van pulled up to the bridegroom’s sedan.

Bell rammed the police van and Isnora, Carey, Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper and Paul Headley opened fire at the car, killing Bell instantly and seriously wounding the other two men. No weapon was ever found.

Oliver, who fired 31 shots and reloaded, and Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, were acquitted on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges and are both negotiating with the department to retire instead of facing a departmental trial, according to the Detective Endowment Association. Carey, who fired three times, and Headley, who fired once and has left the police, were not criminally charged.

“Though I feel that the judge erred with his finding on Officer Michael Carey, I strongly agree that his decision on Isnora vindicates the position of those of us who have worked to vindicate Sean Bell and his family,” Sharpton said.

Christina Santucci contributed to this article.

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

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