N.Y. Police Acquittal Sparks Anger, Appeal for Calm
A New York judge has found three police officers not guilty in the death of an unarmed black man who was hit by a barrage of bullets and died hours before his wedding.
Justice Arthur Cooperman cleared two officers of manslaughter and other charges and a third of reckless endangerment in the death of Sean Bell, 23. Along with two friends, Bell was shot after a bachelor party at a Queens strip club on Nov. 25, 2006. The officers fired 50 shots at him.
The case has generated outrage in New York's black community. A crowd of at least 200 people gathered outside the building, waiting for news of a verdict. Some wore buttons with Bell's picture or held signs saying "Justice for Sean Bell."
The Reverend Al Sharpton is calling for a weekend of protest and civil disobedience in New York City.
Leroy Gadsden of the NAACP told the crowd at the courthouse that if they plan to protest, to make it peaceful.
"If people get in the streets they have that right," Gadsden said. "We hope the police will respect that right, because it's because of the police we're here today."
Hours after the three detectives were acquitted, the Justice Department said it would review their actions in the case.
Federal authorities said they would consider civil rights charges against Marc Cooper, Gescard Isnora and Mike Oliver. A review will be conducted by the Justice Department, federal prosecutors and the FBI.
Officials will "take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Two of the detectives involved in the shooting were black; the other detective was white.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement immediately after the outcome, saying there were no winners in the trial, given the loss to Bell's family and fiancee.
In the trial, defense attorneys painted the victims as drunken and unruly and asserted that officers had reason to believe they were armed and dangerous. Prosecutors tried to convince the judge that the officers were inept and trigger-happy.
None of the officers took the witness stand in his own defense. Instead, Cooperman heard transcripts of the officers testifying before a grand jury, saying they believed they had good reason to use deadly force.
The judge told the court that the police officers' version of events was more credible than the victims' version, and that prosecutors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the shootings were unjustified.
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