NY mayor mets with family of groom slain in police shooting
NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg met Tuesday with the family of the man who was killed on his wedding day in a barrage of police gunfire as he left his bachelor party, and investigators questioned a third civilian witness.Three days after the fatal encounter, it remained unclear why four detectives and one police officer opened fire while conducting an undercover operation at a strip club.The unidentified witness was on a darkened block in Queens when five police officers killed 23-year-old Sean Bell and injured two friends as the three sat inside a car, officials said.There are two other civilian witnesses: One woman on the street who says she saw officers firing their weapons, and a second woman who from her window spotted a man running away from the area around the time of the shooting. Investigators tried to determine if that man had been with the three who were shot.On Tuesday, Bloomberg went to the Bell family’s Queens church, where he met for about an hour with the parents and fiancee of the victim, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. The mayor then met at a restaurant with about 50 community leaders.The mayor held a similar meeting Monday at City Hall in which he declared that officers appeared to use “excessive force” when Bell was killed hours before his wedding. He stood by his comments Tuesday.”I am a civilian. I am not a professional law enforcement officer,” he said. “I used the word excessive and that’s fine. That was my personal opinion. It may turn out to be that it was not excessive.”Some have questioned whether the shooting was racially motivated because the victims were all black men. The five officers who fired their guns included two blacks, two whites and one Hispanic.Councilman James Sanders Jr. of Queens said he warned Bloomberg about possible unrest.”I alerted the mayor that the temperature on the streets has increased to a large degree,” he said. “While we are sitting in these meetings, a lot of people are out on the streets.”Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said some tension was inevitable because of “the nature of what police departments do – we arrest people, we give them summonses, we’re the bearers of bad news, we use force and sometimes we use deadly force.”Police investigators have not interviewed the officers because of a district attorney probe that could result in criminal charges, nor have the officers spoken publicly. An attorney for the detectives’ union, Philip Karasyk, has called the incident “a tragedy, but not a crime.”Union officials familiar with the officers’ account say at least one undercover detective was convinced there was a gun in the car. They also allege that Bell defied orders to stop and used the vehicle as a weapon, bumping the undercover detective and ramming an unmarked police van.”They are genuinely concerned and very sympathetic toward the three men who were shot,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “However, they are anxious to speak to the district attorney in Queens and tell their side of the story.”The gunfire early Saturday stemmed from an undercover operation inside the Kalua Cabaret, where seven officers in plain clothes were investigating alleged prostitution and drug use.Kelly has said Bell was involved in an argument outside the club after 4 a.m., and one of his friends made a reference to a gun. An undercover officer walked closely behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, they drove forward – striking him and an undercover police minivan, Kelly said.The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said.Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it was unlikely the officers would face criminal charges. But, he added, the shooting was certain to prompt an overhaul of police tactics.”I’d be shocked if they ever conduct an operation like this again,” he said.The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave and stripped of their guns during the investigation.The survivors were Joseph Guzman, 31, who was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, who was hit three times. Guzman was in critical condition and Benefield in stable condition on Monday.—Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.