Three Officers Charged in Sean Bell Killing Plead Not Guilty, Family Calls for Justice

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The three police officers indicted for the killing of unarmed bridegroom Sean Bell pleaded not guilty Monday after surrendering at the Queens County Courthouse. Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora are each charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Detective Marc Cooper was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment. All three officers are free pending trial. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The three police officers indicted for the killing of Sean Bell pleaded not guilty Monday after surrendering at the Queens County Courthouse. Bell was killed in November on his wedding day, when police fired 50 shots at the car carrying him and his two friends. All three men were unarmed.

Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora are each charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter for Bell’s death. They’ve also been charged separately with first- and second-degree assault on the two surviving victims. They each face up to 25 years in prison. Bail was set at $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash. Both are free pending trial, after the Detectives’ Endowment Association posted bail for each.

The third officer, Detective Marc Cooper, was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment. He was released on his own recognizance. Michael Oliver fired 31 of the shots, Isnora 11 shots, Cooper four shots. Cooper and Isnora are black. Oliver is white. Two other officers involved in the shooting were not indicted.

Sean Bell’s family and friends addressed the media after the arraignment. Among those to speak were Sean Bell’s mother Valerie; Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman, who survived the police shooting; Bell family attorney, Peter St. George Davis; and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Sean Bell’s fiancée Nicole Paultre-Bell made a brief statement.

NICOLE PAULTRE-BELL: Today was just a baby step in this long road that we have ahead of us. And we’re here to fight, and we’re going to continue to pray for justice.

VALERIE BELL: I can’t begin to thank you enough for your sacrifice of support [inaudible] family [inaudible] devastating and challenging times of our lives. Having faith as a small mustard seed, I believe justice will prevail, even though, what I heard, what the officers got was given to them, but it is not over until God says it’s over. This is the only — this is only the beginning. My son will always — he said to me, “Ma, I got this.” And you know what? God has this, because the world has to come — has came to know him as Sean Elijah Bell. He will always be Sean to me. I miss him desperately. Countless times I’ve tried to bring forth my own understanding, only to be humbled by the weight of my own thoughts. In silent love, I want for the day to continue that I will have faith that God will always get the glory, while Sean Elijah Bell will get the rightful story.

JOSEPH GUZMAN: I’d like everybody to know we lost somebody dear. We’re going to fight all the way 'til we get justice. This was not a victory. It's hollow. That’s all it is. But we here, man. We ain’t going nowhere. We’ll take this all the way to China if we got to. So we’re here to fight.

PETER ST. GEORGE DAVIS: I want to respond very briefly to something that [inaudible] the chief of the Detective Endowment Association said the other day about police officers and this having a chilling effect. It should have a chilling effect. I agree that it will. It should have a chilling effect on excessive use of deadly physical force against citizens that have done nothing wrong. It should have a chilling effect against racial profiling. It should have a chilling effect in terms of the sort of abuse and police officers committing crimes with impunity and being backed by their commissioners, by the Detectives’ Endowment Association.

We have to remember that public servants are here to protect all of us. They should have protected Sean Bell that particular night. They’re not there to be a foil rather than a shield. We are pro-police, but we are pro-good policing of our communities. And that has to change.

We are calling for the dismissal of the officers, even the ones that were not indicted. These officers cannot continue to work on the force. They are directly responsible and part and parcel of the reason why Sean is no longer with us today. They should have departmental proceedings in an expeditious fashion, such that those officers can be dismissed. I don’t know if many of you know or not, but many of the officers involved in the Diallo case still work for New York City in some capacity. That has to change.

REV. AL SHARPTON: We absolutely want to see an aggressive prosecution. We do not want to see any plea bargaining. We do not want to see harassment of witnesses, and we have informed him that he can feel fully empowered to tell the appellate court that we will not cooperate or testify in a trial outside of Queens County, because we feel that given the fact that the detectives did a very serious ad campaign themselves, they cannot talk about a change of venue, when they campaigned and put more money into a public campaign than anyone in the case. It was a very blunt meeting, a frank meeting. Both Trent Benefield and Joe are willing to proceed as long as there’s an aggressive prosecution. Again, I remind you that this is not a day of victory. We’re not walking out of this courtroom to Sean and Nicole’s wedding. We’re not walking out with their friend. There is no victory here, but we hope that we can get justice, so this will never happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Reverend Al Sharpton, one of those who joined the family and shooting victims on Monday outside the courthouse, where the three police officers were arraigned, charged in the shooting death of Sean Bell.

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