Today was short and boring. Everyone is trying hard to be patient in waiting for the testimony of the two main witnesses: Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, which the guards outside had told us last week was supposed to happen this week. I hope the prosecution’s not running behind.
Today the court heard only from two witnesses: an optometrist who examined Sean Bell’s eyes about six months before the shooting, and a ballistic expert who compared bullets and shell casings he received from CSU people to bullets from the five detectives’ guns to try to determine which bullets came from which gun.
Dr. Daniel Friedman, a 79-year-old Queens optometrist, examined Sean Bell’s eyes in May 2006. Sean had come to him at that time to possibly buy a contact lens for his right eye. Without a correction, Sean’s vision in that right eye was poorer than 20/400, making him extremely nearsighted in that eye, with an astigmatism as well. The vision in his left eye, however, was 20/30, so only slightly nearsighted. Legal blindness, according to the doctor, was vision worse than 20/200. So, without the correction Sean would have been legally blind in the right eye but not the left. The Department of Motor Vehicles only mandates that one’s vision must be at least 20/40 in one eye, so, because of his left eye, Sean would have been able to obtain a driver’s license and drive legally without a correction. He never bought any corrective lenses from Dr. Friedman.
(But, remember, most of the action in the car that night was happening on Sean’s right side). Also, darkness and alcohol may impair ability to see, as was elicited on cross.
Detective James Valenti, a firearms operability and identification expert, went through painstaking detail listing each of the 89 pieces of ballistic evidence — whole bullets, deformed bullets, bullet fragments, and shell casings (which are discharged near the shooter when the bullet ejects from the weapon) — that he was given by Crime Scene Unit detectives, and which of the detectives’ guns each one likely came from. Valenti was able to identify 15 bullets and 46 casings; 28 bullet fragments were too small for him to be able to perform tests on. Looking cursorily through my vast notes, I count — no, forget it, it’ll take me all night to do that — suffice it to say the vast majority of recovered shell casings and bullets were fired from Oliver’s gun — hardly surprising given that he fired 31 of the 50 shots — the next highest number from Isnora’s, and a couple each from the weapons of Detectives Headley and Cooper and Officer Carey.
One thing Valenti said that caught my attention was that Glock guns — the type used by Detectives Isnora and Cooper — only needed 5 1/2 pounds of exertion on the trigger in order to discharge bullets. But under the current New York Trigger Policy, weapons must have at least 10 pounds of exertion on the trigger in order for them to fire. The current Trigger Policy was enacted in order to prevent accidental discharge. It doesn’t seem like there were any accidental discharges here, but in any event, why is the NYPD still using the Glocks if they’re not compatible with current trigger policy and can fire accidentally?
Also, on cross examination by Paul Martin, Detective Cooper’s attorney, Valenti, who has some training in firing weapons, said he was trained to fire both with two hands and with only one, that latter done in certain circumstances (which he didn’t specify). That’s important since it goes to the reckless endangerment charge against Cooper (for the bullet he fired into the Air Train platform). It made me realize there hasn’t yet been testimony presented by the prosecution on how officers are trained to fire their weapons, which I really want to hear. With Cooper, that kind of testimony is necessary, to show that he didn’t comply, that he was therefore reckless, and that’s why his bullet went askew.
But more generally, I really want to hear how officers are trained to identify a threat and how they’re supposed to deal with it. I’m sure the court is going to get some of this testimony in the defense case, but the prosecution has the burden of proof and should be trying to show that the detectives not only fired, but that they did so in a way that was inconsistent with their training and thus reckless. As I mentioned before, a black female spectator from the NYPD said to me early on in the trial while we were waiting outside, “We need answers; I know how it’s done and this is not it.” At this point, I’m hoping the prosecution plans on trying to show what she said.