As we reported this morning, the three New York City police officers charged in the 50-bullet shooting death of an unarmed black man, Sean Bell, have just been found innocent of all charges.
In the November 2006 incident Bell, 23, was shot along with two friends after his bachelor party at a strip club. The judge in the case cleared two officers of manslaughter and other charges and a third of reckless endangerment in the death.
Following the reading of the verdict this morning, passionate responses on both sides broke out. Some supporters of Bell stormed out of the courtroom, followed by screams in the hallway moments later. The three detectives — Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver, and Marc Cooper — were escorted out of a side doorway, and outside a huge crowd gathered among a throng of police officers.
The defendants waived their right to a jury, leaving the decision to the judge. He said in his verdict, “the police response with respect to each defendant was not found to be criminal. The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that each defendant was not justified in shooting.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said:
There are no winners in a trial like this. An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and a father lost their son. Judge Cooperman’s responsibility, however, was to decide the case based on the evidence presented in the courtroom. America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority. There will be opportunities for peaceful dissent and potentially for further legal recourse — those are the rights we enjoy in a democratic nation. We don’t expect violence or law breaking, nor is there any place for it.
Is Bloomberg right? Was the case fairly decided by the judge? Will any dissent to the verdict remain peaceful?