The delivery of the verdict in the Sean Bell case and the shooting incident itself sparked outrage from the public over the excessive use of the deadly force by the police. Three officers were brought to the court over the shooting of an unarmed black American man and wounding others in the New York City. A total of 50 bullets were fired. The victim of the shoot out, Sean Bell, in the time of the death was having his bachelor party in a club that had been under constant investigation by the police on the allegation that it was involved in prostitution.
There are reports that earlier on before the shootings, there had been a raging argument and one of bells friend was threatening to shoot a lady who was in the club. One of the victims then told his friend to go and pick a gun to shoot the lady. This prompted an under cover agent to alert his colleagues for back up. The shooting ensued as the victims tried to leave the scene. Though there had been conflicting details on what really transpired before the shootings, there were allegations being leveled against the police for failing to warn the victims of their intention to shoot.
There are claims that the police did not identify themselves appropriately as required by the law. During the cross examination, it was apparent that neither Bell nor his two injured colleagues were armed. It is however of interest to note that all the three victims had prior criminal records. Bell had been put under arrest for arrest a couple of times for crimes mostly spanning to fire arm possession. The shootings drew sharp criticism and protests over the killing of unarmed civilian (Gendar, S. Schifrel, B. H. 2006).
Of the five detectives present during the shootings, three were brought before the court for various charges. Two of them were charged of man slaughter while the last one was charged with reckless endangerment. In total, the detectives had fired a total of 50 bullets; Michael Oliver had fired 31 times, Gescard 11 shots. They were both facing first and second degree manslaughter. Marc Cooper fired four shots. These three officers were acquitted on the three set of charges in a ruling made but the Justice.
This is a case that has continued to spark controversy on the appropriateness of the ruling and also of the witness testimony putting in mind the contradictions that were inherent and apparent to many people. There are however those who maintain that such an acquittal was expected due to the history of the victims and the self defense argument. In making his not guilty ruling, Justice Arthur J. Cooperman did so on the basis that the prosecution side gave testimonies that were not making sense. The criminal record of the prosecution witnesses also weighed negatively on the benefit of doubt.
Justice Cooperman dismissed, in addition to manslaughter, the charges of reckless endangerment (E. Barry & C. Moynihan, 2007). The key reason given behind the acquittal of the three policemen lay in the incredibility of the prosecution witness testimonies. Between the police and the two wounded witnesses, he found the police more credible as their testimony was backed by facts. Whereas it is not possible to know what really transpired, the story that had been carried out in the major dailies is that one undercover detective had radioed for back up on the suspicion that the situation at the Kalua Cabaret Strip Club would get out of hand.
They followed the victims into their car where they made frantic efforts to escape but unfortunately slammed into unmarked police car. The detectives claimed that they saw one of the victims reach out suddenly as if trying to reach for a gun and the shooting started. A question that ranged on for long and that was raised in the court was why so many shots were fired. The accused in the court were able to draw a critical picture that their actions were based on the belief that the suspects were armed and about to engage in a violent confrontation.
They were alluding to the fact that in the face of eminent danger they were reasonably justified to act the way they did. This is an argument that was able to stand even if it was proven by the prosecution that that there was no evidence that the three victims had any gun. The key argument was that the police at the material time believed that the suspects were armed and that had they not fired like they did, they would have been in grave danger. Most people especially the protestors have continued to draw a parallel to the shooting of Armadou Diallo in 1999 by the police as he reached for his wallet.
Other examples of excessive force are also given to try and paint the picture that the incidents were becoming too common. The case was already drawing emotions and this is what prompted the accused to opt for a bench trial rather than for a jury trial. It was in the belief that their argument would have been overshadowed by the arguments and counterarguments already raging in the media (Gloria J. B. , 2007). In its argument, the defense was able to mount credible testimony that was backed by the supposed facts.
One attorney went ahead and to demonstrated that the accused had exercised a lot of caution and restraint. One of the accused was claimed that his split decision to shoot was made after he thought he saw one of the victims, Guzman, make an abrupt turn as if grabbing a gun. The judge’s decision is understandable and justifiable considering it was the police words against Bell’s friends account. In reaching such a verdict, it was almost improbable that he would not have considered the witnesses’ history.
The defense team had put a spirited fight to tarnish the witnesses’ history portraying them as hardcore criminals hence challenging their credibility in court. According to the undercover police, he warned Bell and his friends to raise their hands but they attempted to drive away. A medical examination conducted immediately after the shoot out indicated that bell had drunk right above the legal limit. The defense, through Guzman and his friend was insisting that the police did not identify themselves and were approaching them with weapons that were already drawn and ready to fire.
There was also another conflicting report by one of the accused that there was an addition fourth man in Bell’s vehicle who escaped in the ensuing chaos, escaping with the weapon the police claimed was drawn by Guzman. The defense was blaming one of Bell’s close friend, Jean Nelson, of being the man in the vehicle. Nelson vehemently denied such allegations. The New York Times claimed it got hand of the 23 page document that detailed the happenings of the day. The document was containing the interviews with the head of the patrol squad that fired the shots.
The document also went further to detail the accounts of additional civilian witnesses. According to New York Times, in reference to the said document, there was no account of the presence of a fourth person in the vehicle. This conflicts with the accused allegations. An interview conducted initially by the police investigations does not allude to the claim that someone else could have fled from the vehicle with the said weapon (William K. R. & Al Baker. 2006). There are some analysts and critics who believe that the acquittal was expected. Earl Ofari Hutchinson claims that the “acquittal was inevitable”.
He says that it is unexpected that cops would be convicted for using deadly force in the line of fire. Police always claim that their use of deadly fire is usually occasioned by the threat they face. Police have an added advantage over the prosecution in such cases as the prosecutors cannot use information that is availed during internal disciplinary actions, after allegations of an officer’s misconduct, as this is considered to be self incriminating. Earl Ofari Hutchinson emphasizes that it is almost impossible for any prosecutor to get a conviction as most officers cannot dare testify against their colleagues (2008).
It is apparent that the acquittal of the three cops was expected. There were scanty details emerging from the scene of the crime as the testimony available was either from the police who were sticking to their story, or the civilian witnesses who unfortunately were Bells colleagues. The defense was able to draw a clear picture focusing on the criminal records of the witnesses and hence the unreliability of their testimony. Though there were other factors that were at play, the unreliability of the prosecutions witnesses contributed much to the officers’ acquittal.