Today marked the beginning of the defense case with testimony by police officer Michael Carey, who was in the unmarked minivan with Detective Oliver. (Officer Carey is uncharged; Det. Oliver is one of the two officers charged with manslaughter. For the record, Carey and Oliver are white; the other three officers who fired their weapons are black.) Carey seemed honest and was well-spoken, and seemed to have a pretty clear memory of the events. His account made Lt. Napoli, the one in charge of the whole operation, look totally negligent, while exonerating defendant Det. Isnora. From his point of view, it looked to Carey as if Bell’s car had intentionally tried to run over Isnora, both when it first went forward, then when it backed up. He said he thought this because of the path the car took.
Carey, 27, has been an officer for 6 years, having mainly served routine uniformed foot patrol until July 2006, months before this shooting, when he was transferred to the street narcotics enforcement unit to work in undercover “buy and bust” operations. In September 2006 he was transferred to undercover work in the Vice Unit, and in October to the Queens Enforcement Unit. (So, most of the officers here were new to undercover work in general, to the Vice squad in particular, and had only weeks before the shooting been assigned to the Queens Club Initiative.)
On the night of 11/24/06, Carey and Oliver were assigned to drive the ‘prisoner van,’ meaning their duty was to transport anyone arrested by Det. Headley, designated arresting officer that night. The two decided Oliver would drive and Carey would “record” or sit on the passenger side. They arrived on the scene around 12:30 a.m. on the morning of the 25th and parked a few blocks away from Kalua Cabaret.
After notifying Lt. Napoli they were in place, Carey saw the two other team cars — Napoli’s Camry and the car the undercovers occupied (which included Sanchez, defendant Isnora, and two female officers), drive by. A little before 1:00 he saw Isnora and Sanchez walk by on their way into the club, and soon after heard from Napoli radio that the undercovers were in the club.
Around 2:00, Napoli radioed an update, saying the undercovers were still in the club, nothing much was happening, and to “stand by.” Around 3:00, Napoli radioed again saying the undercovers were still inside, still no action, and to “stand by.” Around 3:40, Napoli again radioed saying the undercovers had a possible prostitution situation and were watching a large black man wearing a black jacket and White Sox hat whom they thought had a gun because of threatening gesture’s he’d made. Napoli told them to stand by for further description.
Soon, another communication came over from Napoli, this one telling the team the prostitution situation was negative and that the undercovers were still watching the man fitting the prior description. Napoli told Carey and Oliver to “move in.”
Oliver and Carey drove closer to the club, and parked around the corner. Carey put on his bullet-resistant vest, and they waited for further instruction.
A few minutes before 4:00, Napoli radioed again saying the undercovers were now outside the club looking for the man with the White Sox hat and black jacket whom they believed had a gun.
In the next transmission, a couple of minutes later, Napoli said one of the undercovers was following that same man — the big black man wearing a black jacket and a White Sox hat — out of the club. They believed he was going to get a gun.
Napoli told Carey and Oliver to “follow them.” However, Napoli neglected to tell the men both where the undercovers and the White Sox man were and which undercover he was speaking of — Isnora, Sanchez, Cooper? Carey radioed back Napoli asking him where the undercovers were, where were he and Oliver supposed to drive to? And exactly which undercover were they looking for? Napoli never responded. Carey asked again. Again no response.
Not knowing what to do, Carey and Oliver began driving down the street toward the club, when they happened to see Napoli’s Camry driving further down the street. They sped up to catch the Camry so they could follow it, the Camry being the only reference point they had. Carey believed they were looking for a large black man wearing a black jacket and a White Sox hat. He also looked for any of his undercover team members.
When the Camry made a right turn onto Liverpool Street, Oliver and Carey followed in the van. He estimated they were going about 40-45 mph when turning the corner, as they’d had to “slow down.” Seeing the Camry’s break lights light up up the block, Carey realized they were stopping, and told Oliver to stop, which Oliver did. Carey then saw Isnora on the sidewalk. He had his gun in his right hand and was walking from the sidewalk to the street toward an Altima, which was parked on the side of the street. That car had its headlights on.
Carey heard Isnora yelling, “police, show your hands, police, show your hands.” Suddenly, the Altima revved up its engine and pulled out of its parking spot at a fast speed — according to Carey, it was the fastest a car could go if it was just pulling out. The car went in the direction of Isnora, hitting him in the leg. Isnora wasn’t directly in front of the car, but off slightly to its side. Isnora didn’t fall, but stumbled and regained balance.
The Altima then sped out into the street, colliding with Carey’s stopped van. Bell put his car in reverse and backed up. It looked to Carey like the way Bell had turned his steering wheel in order to back up, he was going directly toward Isnora, making Carey think the Altima was trying to run Isnora over.
Isnora, yelling “police, don’t move, police, show your hands, police, don’t move,” jumped out of the way, and the Altima crashed into a pull-down gate over a building’s entrance.
Thinking the Altima would take no further action at this point, Carey began to get out of his car. He had one leg out, one leg in, when the Altima sped forward again, crashing into the van again. Carey tried quickly to get back into the van, the car door hitting his leg on his way in. [He eventually needed surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee which he sustained when the door closed on his leg. When asked by defense counsel Anthony Ricco if he had filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the police department for that injury (as had Guzman for the 19 bullet wounds and permanent neurological damage he suffered), Carey said no, but workers’ comp had paid for everything.]
When the Altima crashed into the van the second time, its engine was still going. Isnora started yelling, “he’s got a gun, he’s got a gun” and fired two to three shots at Guzman, in the passenger side of the Altima. Carey jumped out of the van and fired three shots at Guzman as well, believing he was the man Isnora had yelled had the gun. He came to that conclusion mainly because there was no way the driver — Bell — could have made the deft turns of the steering wheel and shifting of gears so quickly if one hand was holding a gun; he’d need both hands for those maneouvers. Carey didn’t issue any commands himself before firing because Isnora’s directives obviously didn’t work; he felt they’d be futile. He could only see Guzman from the chest up; he saw him moving his torso onto Bell’s side, leaning over into Bell’s seat.
Noticing Isnora was walking into his line of fire, Carey lowered his gun and stopped shooting, not wanting to hurt Isnora. He ducked behind the passenger door. He quickly looked out past the car door and saw Benefield open the back Altima door and run down the street. Benefield fled with a severe limp, dragging one leg behind him. Carey knew Benefield had been hit. Seeing Det. Hedley down the street, Carey knew he could get Benefield, so Carey didn’t bother following him. He also didn’t see anything in Benefield’s hands so didn’t consider him a threat.
Suddenly realizing the car’s door offered no real cover, Carey ran around behind the van. He knew the van’s engine was heavy enough it could be used for cover. By the time he got there, the gunfire had stopped. Carey went around to the driver’s side of the van, where he now began shouting, “police, show your hands.”
Carey walked over to Guzman’s door, opened it, and looked inside. He wanted to ensure his fellow officers were safe and that there were no guns within reachable distance of the men inside the car. He saw no such guns. Instead, he saw Guzman lying nearly on top of Bell, both men completely silent and still. Carey thought they were deceased. Seeing Napoli at Bell’s door, Carey stepped back and let him take over. He soon saw Oliver running back to the van. He was impressed because Oliver was on the radio telling central to send over ambulances and backup. Carey would never have thought to do such a thing at that point.
Carey wore his police badge around his neck, but had his sweatshirt over it, covering it. He never saw Isnora from the front, so couldn’t see whether he was wearing his badge during the shooting, but saw him seconds after, when he noticed the police badge pinned to the collar of his sweatshirt. Mr. Ricco presented Carey with a newspaper photo showing all of the officers involved, including Isnora. In the photo, his badge is pinned to his collar. Carey said the photo was taken soon after the shooting.
Carey said Isnora seemed like a “confident undercover” who’d performed several successful operations. Carey described him as a “laid back,” “quiet,” “reserved” guy who was “friendly enough” the few times Carey spoke with him, and able to “blend in well” with the community, making him a “good undercover.”
On cross, ADA Testagrossa elicited that Carey waited until both feet were firmly on the ground and he had an identifiable target to begin firing. I assume this was supposed to indicate that Det. Cooper was reckless when he fired into the Air Train station because one foot was in, the other out, of his car door. But why wasn’t it ever established in the People’s direct case that that was how an officer is trained to fire, with both feet on the ground? Is this all supposed to be obvious? I don’t get this “back door” proof. In general, at the end of the People’s case, I feel confused more than anything, like something is just missing. I hope closing arguments will bring things together and make clear what everything was intended to show.
Carey heard Isnora shout the commands, “police, don’t move” and “police, show your hands,” close in time to each other. (It seems to me, Isnora probably gave the “show your hands” command up front, and changed it to “don’t move” after the Altima started moving, meaning, “stop moving.” Still, the two commands shouted around the same time are contradictory and confusing, assuming Guzman and Bell ever even heard them, which I don’t think they did).
Carey couldn’t ever see Guzman’s hands, so never saw him move them in a way that indicated he was reaching for a gun. He fired at Guzman because he believed someone in the car had a gun because of Isnora’s words and knew it couldn’t have been the driver. He also thought because of the car’s movements, the occupants were trying to harm Isnora. This the first time Carey’s ever fired his gun in the line of duty.