Sean Bell Shooting Trial, Day Four: "We Were All In Shock, In a Surreal State"

Today’s sole witness was Lieutenant Gary Napoli, the team leader of the drug and prostitution operation on the night of the shooting. Napoli, 50, who in his 25 years on the police force had never been charged with carelessness or incompetence, seemed very nervous. He asked often for questions to be repeated, concentrating hard on his answers. He impressed as a man who was trying hard to be truthful yet couldn’t help but be mindful of his defendant colleagues. He spoke very softly and his words were often garbled; I had a hard time understanding him.
The team, which included all three defendant detectives (Oliver, Isnora and Cooper), had been assigned to the Jamaica, Queens initiative in October of 2006, a month before the shooting. Previously they had been assigned “buy and bust” operations in Chelsea, Manhattan. (I’m sorry but on hearing this, my first thought was: there’s actually crime in Chelsea these days? I’ll be very interested when the detectives testify to know whether this was their first experience out of Lower Manhattan…) Within the prior week the team had processed two arrests each for drug sale and prostitution at Kalua Cabaret. They needed one more arrest — for either — at Kalua in order to ask that it be closed down. According to office superiors, there were to be team changes put into effect the following week, making them believe they may be returned to Manhattan and this would be their last night in Queens. Although it wasn’t listed on their TAC plan (plan of operations) for that evening, the team had decided Kalua would be the main target.

The team consisted of three vehicular units: the undercover’s car, driven by defendant Detective Isnora and containing three other passenger undercover officers; the “prisoner van” which carried defendant Detective Oliver and another officer; and the “chase car” used by the backup team to get the suspects after the buy, in which Napoli and defendant Detective Cooper were passengers).

All cars parked in the vicinity of Kalua at around 12:45 on the morning of November 25th. Once all units radioed they were ready, Napoli authorized them to go, sending Detective Sanchez into the club around 1:30 a.m., and Cooper at 2. About fifteen minutes after Cooper entered, Napoli received a communication (he couldn’t remember from whom) that there was a male black in the club wearing a white White Sox hat and a white t-shirt who made a gesture to his waistband indicating he had a firearm, after a dancer approached him saying she had had a problem with a man in the club. Napoli relayed that information to the other units. At about 2:50, Napoli decided to have Cooper exit the club and place him and Isnora in front of the club to stop the “White Sox” person if and when he left. Cooper returned to his car to get his bullet-proof vest, and he and Isnora took position in front of Kalua.

Around 3:30 a.m., Isnora called Napoli telling him there were two groups in a heated argument in front of the club and he believed a weapon was involved. A few seconds later Isnora called again, his voice now much more frantic, saying they needed to take quick action; he believed there was going to be violence. His words were, “it’s getting hot, it’s getting hot, we need you here quick,” which Napoli viewed as a call for help, and told his units to “move in.” Isnora gave no description of the people involved in the fight but said nothing about a man with a White Sox cap.

Napoli’s car went past Kalua, but Napoli didn’t spot Isnora. (Napoli was in the passenger side; another officer drove). When they rounded the corner of Liverpool Street and began driving south, Napoli saw Sanchez rounding the corner as well; he was walking behind a black woman (who must have been Payne). He then saw Isnora about two buildings in from the corner, standing on the west side of the street. There were between 20 and 40 people on the street, the club having just closed. As he passed Isnora, Isnora gave him three nods of the head indicating a car, an Altima (Bell’s car), across the street, parked on the east side of the street, which some people were getting into.

Napoli’s intent was to drive up past the car, put his police light atop his car, then get out and stop the Altima. As they drove past, Napoli fumbled with the light, having some problem retrieving it, then plugging it in. As Napoli was bent down trying to put the light on, he heard a car screeching away, followed by a collision. Seconds later (he couldn’t estimate how many) he heard gunshots. They were multiple; no pauses. At this point, though he hadn’t seen what happened since he was bent down looking away from the cars, he believed that the people in the Altima knew Isnora was an officer, knew they were all police, and in the process of trying to get away got into a collision. Still trying to get away from the police, the people in the Altima were now firing at them. He thought he and his men “were under fire.”

As Napoli grabbed his gun and tried to look backwards out his passenger window, he saw another officer, who was directly in his line of fire. He radioed the officer to get out of the way, which he did. Napoli exited the car, crouching, his weapon drawn, the gunfire still going on. After he got to the end of his car, the gunfire stopped, an “eerie silence” ensuing. Napoli never fired.

When the gunfire ceased, Napoli called out asking if everyone on the team was okay. Voices indicated they were. He saw Oliver standing on the driver’s side of the Altima and Isnora near the corner of the street. Napoli then turned his concentration to the Altima, seeing some movement inside. A man called out that he was hit. Napoli directed him to put his hands out of the car and wiggle his fingers to let him know he didn’t have a gun. The man did so.

Afterward the team members were “all in shock; in a surreal state.” Napoli had supervised over 100 operations and none of his subjects had ever been seriously injured.

Napoli also had never before ordered a primary undercover to effectuate an arrest; arrests were performed by the designated arresting officer. But he had also never been in this kind of situation. He said he was trained, at the outset of a threat, first to take cover, then assess the situation, and then identify the target, all before using any deadly force. He would not let shots go off without identifying a target. But there are some situations, he added, where you can’t find the target.


  1. Obviously he was nervous because he was trying to concoct a story of why they were going to arrest people without any cause, because people were arguing or someone touched their waistband.

    Diallo reached into his pocket for his wallet to provide ID and they THOUGHT he was pulling a weapon to shoot them.

    I’m sorry these cops were not so much as looking for trouble as they were causing it.

    Prostitution is a victimless crime to begin with and I could care less if it goes on. I would rather see it regulated and or decriminalized.

    Drug buys? Who cares if someone is buying some drugs or using them? The drug laws are nonsense. I would like to know about the previous two operations they had pulled off which would lead to closing this club.

    These cops are a bunch of bumbling jerks and people are scared shitless of these undercover cops who shoot first and ask questions later. I don’t blame anyone from wanting to get away from that place if they thought cops were around and guns might be blazing. Cops are indiscriminate and totally paranoid that everyone is going to shoot them.


  2. In response to SanderO’s recent comments: It may well turn out in the end that these cops are really guilty, but in the meantime, please, let us not forget that it is still a basic principle of the American legal system that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

  3. Fine, but how do you feel about the guilty using legal maneuvers and deceptive testimony to raise enough doubt to walk?

    OJ did it.

    You call that “justice”?

  4. Again, you are presuming that the cops on trial in this case are guilty. How about waiting until all the evidence is in before rendering that verdict.

    It’s true that people like OJ have succeeded in beating the system and (literally) getting away with murder. Our legal system is admittedly very imperfect but again,my question is: if the system is so radically unjust, what would you replace it with? A return to the methods of torture employed by the Spanish Inquisition? A system in which those accused are denied legal counsel? A verdict based on public opinion polls (i.e the opinion of people who were not actual witnesses to the events that took place but who know “in their hearts” what really occurred)?

  5. Unfortunately, we have already seen a return to the view that torture is acceptable.

  6. I don’t advocate replacing it. I advocate improving it. And I certainly don’t advocate guilty until proven innocent.

    A man was shot dead with 50 bullets. It’s hard in my mind to turn this into a self defense and therefore render an non guilty verdict.

    There were no shots fired by any of the victims so this boils down to the allegation that they cops took a PRE EMPTIVE measure – shooting because they thought they would be shot at.

    This is very much like the foreign policy of the Bush administration which engages in “pre emptive” war so other nations cannot strike. This is flawed and dangerous logic a and the defense that these cops use time and time again is the same BS.

    In my opinion, they made a mistake and they were not innocent or guilty of murder 1. This was not pre meditated. But there policy of shoot first and ask later needs to be changed. There is no accountability and it is simply too dangerous to be black in NYC with this policy in place.

    Patrick Dorismond
    Amidou Diallo
    Michael Stewart
    Anthony Baez
    Eleanor Bumpers
    Anthony Rosario
    Jamel Nixon
    Anthony Reid
    John Lagattuta
    Gideon Busch
    Guiatree Hardat
    Malcolm Ferguson
    Frankie Arzuaga
    Khiel Coppin
    Timothy Stansbury
    Nicholas Heyward, Jr.
    Timor Person
    Ousame Zongo

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