Sean Bell Shooting Trial Day 28: "The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions"

I’m sorry for this insanely long post, but this is what happens when lawyers talk for seven hours straight: you end up with an entire legal pad — both fronts and backs of pages — full of notes. Ugh. I’ll try go focus on just the highlights of the lawyers’ summations.

I just want to start off by saying big kudos to prosecutor Charles Testagrossa for delivering a very moving summation. He’s been criticized throughout the trial for being too lenient with the defense attorneys, not objecting enough to their cross examination of his witnesses, not putting forth strong enough evidence on his direct case, etc. So, I felt it was really important for him to give a powerful closing that showed he was doing everything he could to prosecute these officers. And he came through on that with flying colors. People were talking about how inspiring it was on their way out of the courthouse, people were crying in the restroom afterward … it was a perfect end to an emotionally fraught and hugely important case.

And of course much of his summation was directed toward the courtroom spectators, the family and friends of Sean Bell, and the press and, through them, the larger public. Actually, with the exception of Detective Michael Oliver’s attorney, James Culleton, all of the attorneys focused little on the actual law, or even the evidence, figuring, rightly so, that Justice Cooperman would be able to figure out all of that on his own. Rather, they spoke to the larger picture, and directed their arguments just as much if not more to the courtroom audience and larger public as to Justice Cooperman.

“Guzman Was the Only One With the Testicular Fortitude to Threaten To Use a Gun; It’s Because of Him That We’re Here Today.”

First to speak was Paul Martin, defending Detective Mark Cooper, who was charged only with reckless endangerment for the shot he fired that missed its target and wound up in the Air Train station. Martin’s initial proclamations set a good tone for the defense arguments:

“This trial is not about who’s a thug, about who was drinking, about who’s the best pole dancer in the city, about what part of Queens one is from (issues that at times have received a ridiculous amount of attention), and it’s not about a cold-blooded killing on Liverpool Street. It’s about whether the People have proven beyond a reasonable doubt the defendants acted recklessly.” With regard to Cooper, this means they must have shown his conduct created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person, that he was aware of and disregarded that risk, and that such disregard constitutes a gross deviation from what a reasonable person — a reasonable police officer — would do under the same or similar circumstances. There was no proof Cooper grossly deviated from the conduct of a reasonable police officer in similar circumstances, Martin said.

Martin argued there was no direct evidence it was Cooper’s bullet and not Isnora’s (who also used a Glock handgun) that pierced the Air Train, though there was circumstantial evidence of such, since Isnora shot from the other direction. Even so, Cooper is entitled to every inference of non-guilt, Martin argued. Plus, expert Alexander Jason had testified that the bullet could have ricocheted off of another hard surface before ending up in the station, testimony which was unrebutted.

Even assuming Cooper did shoot directly into the Air Train, Martin continued, the People didn’t show that under these circumstances — Cooper’s hearing gunfire and seeing Bell’s back car window blow out making him think someone inside was shooting at him — he did not respond in a manner consistent with a normal NYC police officer. After all, Cooper acted reasonably with respect to Trent Benefield, not shooting him as he saw him running down the street, after assessing he had no gun and posed no threat.

Is a 14 degree angle a “gross deviation” Martin queried the judge. The prosector presented no one to testify that Cooper discharged his weapon in an unsafe manner, in a way that was inconsistent with his training as a police officer.

Turning to the rest of the defense case — the other reckless endangerment, assault, and manslaughter charges — Martin pointed out inconsistencies in the People’s witnesses’ testimony: Coicou’s trial statements that he never heard anyone say they were getting a gun but statements to the DA that he did hear someone say exactly that; Marseillas Payne’s claim that only one collision occurred which was at odd’s with just about everyone else’s testimony that they saw a total of three; Trent Benefield’s saying at trial he was shot while running and there was only one collision but his telling the police right after the shooting that he was shot in the car and there were three crashes.

But the most controversial part of Martin’s closing statement was with respect to Joseph Guzman. Detective Isnora didn’t follow Guzman, Martin asserted, because Guzman was black, because he was large, or because of the way he was dressed: every single man on the street that night was black and dressed in street clothing, and at least one other man — Jean Nelson — was a big guy too. Isnora followed Guzman because Guzman was the only man there to say, “go get my gat (gun),” and Guzman was the only one with the “testicular fortitude” and the confrontational attitude to go and use it, and Isnora recognized that. Martin reminded Justice Cooperman how Guzman fought with attorneys on the stand. In probably the most controversial statement of the day, Martin said, “Guzman’s the reason why we’re here today.” Mumbles spread through the courtroom and Guzman’s wife got up and walked out.

“Martin’s the one with ‘testicular fortitude’!” my friend said to me afterward. “I can’t believe he said that! It’s a good thing Guzman wasn’t in there then!” Guzman and the others did come into court for the second half of the day, for Testagrossa’s summation.

In conclusion, Martin argued that if Cooper was convicted, a dangerous precedent may be set: if a police officer may be indicted for recklessness for firing his weapon in a dangerous situation without both feet firmly on the ground, without both hands completely steady, he or she may hesitate, with fatal consequences:

“[If you say to these officers] next time wait until your hand is set and your feet are stable, next time wait until you are more balanced, well, next time you’re dead.”

“Dr. King said the moral arc of the universe is long but ultimately the truth will come to light.”

On to Anthony Ricco, Detective Gescard Isnora’s attorney, by far the most odd but interesting summation of the day. It was odd in that he spent much of the time talking about why he chose to take on the case and his own involvement with it and other black defendants. He began by saying, “It’s hard to find a starting place. I would love to just give you my notes.” “That’s a good idea,” Justice Cooperman joked.

Ricco was angry at the way the Jamaica community had demonized Isnora, at the way the press had characterized the issues in an overly simplistic way, at critics of the defense attorneys who were doing their jobs to the best of their ability. A lot of people, he said, tried to discourage him, a black man, from representing another black man charged with a serious crime. But that’s exactly what he does, he said, represents black men charged with serious crimes. He’s done lots of defense-side death penalty work in the Midwest and South, he said. People wanted this case to fit a script, he said. The last thing they wanted was for someone like him to stand behind someone like Isnora.

All of the defense lawyers acted professionally here. No one went scrambling to get before the cameras afterward, Ricco said, referencing (I think) civil attorneys for the shooting victims here.

Ricco lauded Jean Nelson, one of the civilian witnesses and a friend of Bell’s, calling him “the voice of reason” in a case fraught with inconsistencies; said he “broke rank to tell the truth,” and in doing so, “contradicted every proseuction witness called.” He loved Sean Bell but that didn’t prevent him from coming to court and telling the truth (Nelson is the only one to say he heard Isnora speak before shooting; what he heard was “Yo, let me holler at you.” Nelson also described the fight between Coicou and Bell and Guzman as being serious and fraught with danger, said that Coicou told Bell “I’ll shoot you,” that Bell said to Coicou “we’ll take that [gun] from you,” that Coicou had “an icy stare” and that Bell could be hostile when drunk, and that he was drunk that night. Nelson also said Isnora would have been “squashed” by Bell’s car had he not jumped out of the way).

Returning to his theme of how the press and Jamaican / Far Rockaway community had oversimplied the truth here, Ricco spoke about Isnora’s background. Isnora wasn’t exactly from an upper-class community and he certainly wasn’t white; rather, he grew up in Bushwick, a neighborhood not unlike that of Jamaica, where Bell, Guzman and their friends are from. But instead of turning to a life of crime, Ricco said, Isnora went to college and became a fighter of crime. Instead of selling crack, possessing firearms illegally, stashing guns in his car, spending time in prison, he works in the community putting his life on the line everyday so that community’s children don’t have to live in fear. And for this, Ricco said, for going to college (“which we don’t like”) the community demonizes him, says “to hell with you,” wants him to be deprived of solid legal representation.

Ricco contrasted Isnora with Trent Benefield, one of the shooting victims. Benefield, Ricco said, called Isnora in his taped interview with the police officers after the shooting, “a nigger with a gun.” (I didn’t hear this when the tape was played in court, but like I said before, it was very difficult to hear anything on it, or to see the words of the transcript on the monitor.)

They (meaning either the prosecution, the Jamaican / Far Rockaway community, or the civil attorneys representing Guzman and Benefield in their multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit against the NYPD) did their best to “dress up” their witnesses, Ricco said, in perhaps the second most controversial statement of the day. Trent Benefield, James Kollore, Johnell Henkerson, all showed up in “borrowed suits” and cried fake tears on the stand in order to arouse sympathy and make them look professional. (Those on the prosecution spectator side did not take kindly to this, understandably). The civil attorneys responsible for the multi-million dollar lawsuit, he said, did their best to make sure Benefield and the other civilian witnesses in Bell’s group fit a certain image. Ricco asked Justice Cooperman to juxtapose Benefield’s racist name-calling of Isnora and the images of Bone, Hugh Jensen, and Larenzo Kinred on the videotape of the scene shortly after the shooting, where they were pumping their arms at the camera, wearing do-rags, and talking about “burn” — slang for guns — with the images he saw of them in court, besuited and sedate.

Turning to the evidence, Ricco said it makes no sense that Isnora would walk up to Bell’s car and without a word, begin pumping bullets into it. He asked Cooperman to consider all the police officers who testified and Isnora’s character witnesses who said he was a highly competent, good-hearted, quiet, reserved man — an image sharply at odds with that propounded by the People’s civilian witnesses.

Fabio Coicou’s testimony was so riddled with contradictions and so nonsensical that the courtroom giggled and laughed throughout much of it, Ricco said. But is perjury really funny, he asked. Coicou’s testimony, Ricco said, was “designed to get a cop and make him pay.”

One truthful thing about Coicou’s testimony, Ricco said, was that he saw Isnora standing nearby, figured out he was a cop, and tried to so indicate to Guzman. Putting this together with Hugh Jensen’s testimony that Guzman said to him at that point, “take me to my bitch’s house,” Ricco argued that Guzman, no dummie, realized what Coicou was doing, saw Isnora standing around, and made the statement to Jensen in order to pull Isnora off his trail and make him think they were all leaving peaceably. Guzman, inexplicably walked to Bell’s car, when he’d originally arrived at the club in Henkerson’s car. Why didn’t he return to the car he’d arrived in, Ricco queried, before implying that, knowing Isnora was a cop and was following him, didn’t go to the car with the gun in it. Then, when he saw Isnora again in front of the car, realizing he hadn’t successfully got him off his trail, Guzman directed Bell to run him over. Ricco admitted he had no real proof of any of this, but this was one reading of the facts.

Much of Guzman’s testimony was belied by other facts, Ricco said. The ballistics evidence is inconsistent with shots being fired when the car was going in reverse, as Guzman said. Isnora’s belief that Guzman and his friends may be going back to Coicou was substantiated with Coicou’s seeing some of them down at the corner peeking back up at him. That fabric from Isnora’s pants was embedded in Bell’s car’s front grill shows that Bell’s car had to have hit him. And Guzman’s claim that he heard nothing from Isnora’s mouth was unbelievable when there were witnesses, such as Detective Sanchez, Mrs. Hernandez who lived nearby, and Mr. Rafael, who lived at the end of the block, who heard men shouting before the shots.

What else was Isnora supposed to do, Ricco asked. If he believed deadly force was about to be used against him and he had no cover, how else should he have acted? He told his boss, Lt. Napoli, what he’d seen outside of the club, and Napoli directed him to follow Guzman. Was he supposed to not follow his boss’s orders? Wouldn’t he have been incompetent and careless if he didn’t? How did Isnora deviate from the standard of conduct a regular police officer would have engaged in? What was he supposed to have thought as Bell’s car reversed and backed up at him, Ricco asked. When he shot, Isnora made a split second decision in a rapidly escalating situation. After Bell’s car had reversed and collided again with the police van, Isnora thought he saw Guzman reaching for a gun. It doesn’t actually matter, Ricco said, whether Isnora told the men in the car he was a police officer; it only matters whether he reasonably feared for his life.

(I have two brief things to say about Ricco’s summation: 1) he tried to bolster the testimony of Officer Carey and Detective Sanchez, by saying they have no reason to lie; they’re cops and they wouldn’t risk their careers over lying for a fellow officer. The prosecutor didn’t object, likely because there was no jury here, but there’s case law saying those arguments constitute improper vouching for police witnesses; you can’t use the police or prosecutor’s office to vouch for their credibility. And 2) he said all of the People’s civilian witnesses had prior convictions for violent felonies including gun possession offenses. I know right off the bat Trent Benefield didn’t have any priors at all, and I’m pretty sure some of the others had only non-violents or priors not involving weapons possession.)

In conclusion, Ricco said he appreciated the court’s indulgence in letting him go on at length, and that this has been a difficult case for everyone. He said some people were angry with his cross examination of some of the People’s witnesses. But this is his job, he said, and he takes it seriously. He stands between the accused and a mob who by definition don’t wait for the facts to come out. We need to give the process a chance and have faith that the partipants will be served.

Like All Criminal Cases This All Boils Down to Credibility

Compared to the first two attorneys, James Culleton, Detective Oliver’s attorney, gave a pretty bland summation, but one that most focused on the evidence. The prosecution had not disproven that the officers were “justified” (the legal term for self defense) beyond a reasonable doubt, he said. Instead, it had presented a parade of convicted felons, crack dealers and weapons possessors, in contrast to five officers who’d never before fired in the line of duty.

Culleton went through many of the inconsistencies in the People’s case: Benefield’s testimony that there was only one collision was belied by his telling the officers there were three. His testimony that he put his hands over his eyes after initially seeing Isnora and left them there throughout the incident was belied by blood belonging to him found on the front passenger’s seat headrest, which could only have got there by Benefield holding his wounded leg then grabbing the headrest. Benefield’s claim that he was shot while running was belied by Jason’s expert testimony that, because of the bullet holes in his pants, he must have been shot while sitting down. Nor did anyone state that they saw anyone shooting at Benefield as he ran down the block.

Culleton cited Gannolo’s expert testimony that the bullets fired into cars and windows and fences down the block had ricocheted from a hard surface before landing there, and Jason’s testimony that the bullet recovered from Mrs. Rodrigues’s lampshade had to have ricocheted there. Because the crime scene had no integrity at all due to the number of ambulances, medical and police personnel, and civilians running around the scene, none of the shell casings or bullets could be said conclusively to have landed where they were actually found — so the positioning of much of the ballistics evidence is inconsequential.

The trajectories of the bullets — all into the Altima’s front windshield or passenger side, belied Guzman’s claim that the officers were shooting as the Altima reversed toward the gate. Further, if the shots had begun while the Altima was in reverse, Culleton asked, why would Bell have driven back into the line of gunfire, instead of turning and driving in the other direction.

Culleton pointed out other witness inconsistencies. Though Marseillas Payne said she saw officers emerge from the police van and begin rapidly shooting, no other witness even saw her on that street. She said Benefield had intended to have Bell drive up to her car so they could tell her where they were going for food, but Benefield remembered no such thing. Larenzo Kinred said on Anthony South’s video of the scene that he’d seen everything, then gave an account of the shooting, but admitted at trial he was not on the block when the shooting happened.

After highlighting Jason’s testimony that Oliver could have discharged two magazines in only 12.3 seconds, to show how quickly it all happened, Culleton, echoing Ricco, asked, what should Oliver have done? He aided his fellow officer, Isnora, whose life he believed to be in danger and, on seeing what he thought was Guzman reaching for a gun, while Isnora yelled “he’s got a gun,” made a split-second decision to use deadly force. Culleton cited Jason’s testimony about the blow-back effect of glass, arguing that Oliver reasonably believed someone was firing from within the Altima when the window blew out at him.

This is a very sad case, Cullerton concluded, but not one in which a crime was committed.

The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

As I said above, prosecutor Charles Testagrossa delivered a very moving closing argument. “Before we pin medals on these defendants for their heroism,” he began, “let’s look at the reality here. These officers’ supposedly good actions left one man dead and one seriously wounded, after a total of 50 shots in all were fired.” While the defendants argue the number of shots is irrelevant, it is not, Testagrossa countered. Are they’re allowed to just keep shooting until they run out of ammunition?

Isnora acted recklessly, Testagrossa said. The evidence shows that he never identified himself as an officer to Bell and Guzman. With the sole exception of Officer Carey, no one — including the civilian witnesses as well as Isnora’s fellow officers (Detective Oliver, Lt. Napoli, Detective Sanchez, and Detective Headley) heard him identify himself as an officer. And Carey’s testimony should be called into question, Testagrossa suggested, since Carey was on the side of the car farthest from Isnora — how could Oliver have not heard the words “police, don’t move” when Carey did?
Since Isnora didn’t identify himself (or, even if he did, the evidence suggests Guzman and Bell didn’t hear him or see his badge), this means that the men in Bell’s car were, rightly, trying to flee when faced with deadly force. This is what rationality dictates. What could they be expected to do?

Testagrossa argued that if Isnora was so concerned Guzman was going to do a drive-by of Coicou, he would have paid more attention to Coicou, he would have noticed that Coicou drove right past him, turned the corner, and drove on down Liverpool Street, leaving the club.

Because, according to Isnora and Oliver, the passenger-side window of the Altima was blown out early on, the two officers could easily see into the Altima, and could see that Guzman had no gun. And, the cars were directly under a working streetlight, Testagrossa said. They should have known there were no weapons in the car. More, had they paused to reassess, they should have seen the Guzman was no longer a threat after he began leaning toward Bell’s side of the car, lying down on his stomach, hands reaching toward Bell’s window, trying to escape the gunfire. The ballistics evidence — bullets recovered from Guzman’s clothing — substantiates Guzman’s testimony that he was trying to lean onto and lie over Bell in order to move as far as possible from the shots being fired at him.

More, there was cover available to Isnora and Oliver in the form of car engine blocks, both of the police van and the many other cars parked nearby.

Why did they fire, Testagrossa asked. Out of anger? The shooting didn’t begin until after the Altima hit the police van for the final time. So even if the officers perceived that the Altima had initially tried to run down Isnora, it was no longer a threat. Was Isnora mad at Bell for hitting him?

There was more force used here than anyone could reasonably believe to have been necessary, Testagrossa said, showing photographs of the many trajectory rods sticking out of the Altima’s passenger side. Neither Isnora nor Oliver ever stopped to pause and think about what they were doing and whether the threat remained, both emptying their weapons instead.

Lt. Napoli’s realization that there was no return gunfire and his decision not to shoot, was a perfect illustration, Testagrossa said, of how a reasonable police officer should have acted under the same circumstances. Detective Headley apparently came to the same conclusion as Napoli, Testagrossa contended, seeing as how he fired only once. Headley and Napoli served as standards of conduct by which to measure how a reasonable officer should have acted in this situation.

The two other police officers who fired their weapons — Carey and Headley — were not charged Testagrossa argued, because they acted reasonably, stopping to re-assess the situation well before unloading two magazines, and taking available cover.

The People’s civilian witnesses, Testagrossa said, may have had inconsistencies in their testimony, but, aside from Coicou’s, those inconsistencies were all minor. More, the fact that all of the People’s civilian witnesses were close friends with each other and lived in the same neighborhood, yet still presented somewhat inconsistent testimony, evinces that they weren’t lying, that they didn’t get together and plan their testimony.

Testagrossa reminded the judge that, there may be a multi-million dollar lawsuit pending, but those with the greatest interest in this case, with the greatest incentive to lie, are those with the most at stake — Isnora and Oliver. It’s no mystery that those witnesses who put the greatest fighting words in Bell’s mouth at the scene outside of the club (“let’s go fuck him up”) were Sanchez and Isnora.

Sanchez and Carey had tailored their testimony to help their fellow officers, Testagrossa said. Sanchez claimed he heard commands before the shooting, but couldn’t make out the exact words. So, how did he know they were commands? And Carey’s claim that Bell’s car came out of its spot as fast as a parked car possibly could, has the ring of tailored testimony designed to help Isnora’s contention that Bell nearly ran him over. In describing Isnora as laid back and confident, Carey contradicted even Isnora’s character witnesses — a longtime friend and a pastor — who said he was quiet and soft-spoken, and who were surprised he went into the police force because he was so non-confrontational.

If Isnora was acting as he should have, Testagrossa continued, he would have displayed his shield prominently — on a chain around his neck — not latched to his upper collar, thereby relying on the vagaries of other people’s eyesight (Bell was nearly blind in his right eye) to see it. Assuming he shouted any commands at all, ordering, “police, don’t move,” and “police, show me your hands,” both of which Isnora said he shouted, were contradictory. What would a reasonable person being given such conflicting commands be expected to do? And how could it appear to Isnora and Oliver that Guzman was continuously raising his hand as if to bring a gun up the whole time, even as he was moving to Bell’s side of the car to avoid gunfire, which Carey said he saw him do?

Benefield likely sustained the wound to his upper thigh as he was running, Testagrossa contended. If he was seated in the car, as Jason had testified was more likely, how then was there no damage to the car seat, since the bullet, having both an entry and exit wound on Benefield’s body, would have had to have gone through the seat as well. With all of the bullets that went into various things down the street — several parked cars, a house, a fence — it’s highly likely those aren’t all ricochets; someone was shooting at Benefield as he ran, Testagrossa asserted.

It was clear Isnora was scared of Kalua Club, Testagrossa said, as indicated by Sanchez’ having to go in before him to ensure the women from the prior arrest were not there to jeopardize his safety. And, Isnora said in his Grand Jury testimony that being an undercover was dangerous, if one is recognized, he could be subject to violence, and he’d been robbed before. All witnesses who knew Isnora — both civilian and officers — said he was quiet, reserved, his friends couldn’t believe he was going into the police force because of his non-confrontational personality. Well, Testagrossa said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”; if Isnora was scared, meek, too non-confrontational to be an effective undercover, if his personality meant he’d lead his fellow officers into such a tragic blunder, then he shouldn’t be an officer. At this, mumbling emanated from the prosecution spectator seats and someone must have punched the air to symbolize solidarity with Testagrossa, because the court stopped the prosecutor and told the audience, “please keep those gestures and thoughts to yourselves. This isn’t a ballgame.”

Testagrossa went through each civilian prosecution witness, showing how each was unfairly slandered, branded a liar by the defense. Marseillas Payne’s testimony that she spoke to a bald man on her way outside the club was backed up by Sanchez, and her claim that she went back into the club and told everyone about the shots was substantiated by the bouncer. Yet, because she was a witness, she was carted off to the police station where she was held against her will for 18 hours, unable to care for her children, unable to leave, treated like a criminal. And she was here branded a liar all because she only remembered seeing one collision.

Larenzo Kinred was branded a liar and a thug because of the way he sounded on Anthony South’s footage of the scene, angrily punching the air, saying his friend was killed and he didn’t even have “burn.” Kinred had a right to be angry; his friend had just been killed for no reason, Testagrossa said. And he was called a liar because he, along with all others besides Nelson, never heard any commands.

James Kollore too was reduced to “thug” and “liar”, but his only point of departure from the officers’ accounts was that he thought he saw the police van crash into the Altima instead of the other way around, and he didn’t remember saying “we’ll take that gun from you” to Coicou, while admitting on the stand he might have said it.

And what was the defense’s purpose in belittling Benefield, Testagrossa asked. This is a man who did nothing, took no part in the fight outside of the club, had no prior convictions, was wounded badly and permanently in the leg, was running down the street for his life — the personification of an innocent victim. Attacking him for claiming he had his arm in front of his face during the shooting was ridiculous — it makes perfect sense someone would do such a thing if faced with such a threat.

Regarding Guzman’s belligerent demeanor toward the defense attorneys during cross examination: how could he not be angry at the officers who killed his friend and wounded him for life, Testagrossa asked. And why keep bringing up the lawsuit as if it’s a bad thing — Guzman has $200,000 in unpaid medical expenses, and it’s not as if he set himself up to be shot so he could get the money. If anyone has the right to sue, it’s Joe Guzman. And why attack his claim that he moved to Bell’s side of the car in order to avoid gunfire. Who wouldn’t? Even Officer Carey substantiated that, saying he saw Guzman moving to the other side. “There was a lot of blaming the victims going on here,” Testagrossa said. And it went way too far.

Many of the witnesses were drunk and tired that night. They weren’t prepared for a shoot-out and weren’t closely and consciously watching everyone and everything making sure they’d remember it all. Everything happened extremely quickly, in a matter of seconds. This is likely why there are inconsistencies about who was where, who parked where and which cars they took, where Isnora came from, exactly when the gunfire began and how many shots there were and whether there were any pauses, and how many collisions there were — not that all of the People’s witnesses are lying thugs.

Though many heard shouts (Hernandez, Rafael, Sanchez), such shouts could have been any words. They could have been as Nelson said, “Yo, let me holler at you,” but what were Guzman and Bell supposed to think of a man with a gun approaching them saying such a thing? “Police” was not one of the words used, Testagrossa argued.

Testagrossa argued the way the bullets pierced the side of the Altima, the way they were evenly spaced, it looked like the officers were shooting at target practice. This was inconsistent with the claim that they shot as quickly as they could. Oliver made 31 decisions to fire, 31 decisions to use deadly force, 31 decisions to adjust his recoil and re-aim, he had 31 opportunities to pause and reasses, 31 opportunities to potentially save an innocent life.

If Isnora had acted in a responsible, reasonable manner in approaching Bell, Bell would have done exactly as he did with the officer who stopped his car before he went into the club: given him his license and registration, obeyed orders. That earlier incident with the other police officer, Testagrossa said, shows Bell wasn’t out for trouble, and was a rational actor. If only Isnora had acted as that earlier officer had.

The whole Club Enforcement Initiative itself was a problem. There was no real planning, the TAC meeting was poorly organized, the car was poorly equipped having no police light, none of the officers were familiar with the neighborhood, Napoli gave wrong information on who was being followed and who was to be stopped. The victims are considered thugs, Testagrossa said, while this shoddy operation is praised.

Everyone is entitled to the American dream and to justice, including people who make CDs about the streets and who have some prior convictions. There wasn’t one punch, one blow that night, coming from this group of so-called thugs, Testagrossa said. They all acted with far more restraint than the officers. “We ask this court to let justice reign and find the defendants guilty on all counts,” Testagrossa concluded.

Justice Cooperman said court is in recess until April 25th, at which time he’ll give his verdict.


  1. The instant case indicates that the police were paranoid and acted much the way they did in the Diallo case.

    The larger issue is about police training and use of deadly force and these buy and bust operations. If you do undercover work and have a solid case and have gathered evidence you then make the arrest quietly with uniformed officers. You don’t have undercover cops shooting up neighborhoods to INTIMIDATE people.

    This is another instant case of the failure of the police to do their jobs.

    The cops are guilty, but the commissioner is and the brass who establish these under cover programs.

    I’m curious. How many shot em up arrests have been made of people who were guilty of crimes, or these was substantial evidence of a criminal behavior? It seems that most of these cases, the cops are killing innocent people. If so, what does that say?

  2. BTW, Since you attended the entire trial and even reported brilliantly on it for us out here, as a jurist, what would your verdict(s) be?

    I feel am am biased and believe that the cops were wrong as I stated several times, so I disqualify myself. How about you Samba Girl?

  3. My jury’s still out — I’m remaining neutral, for right now.

  4. the prosecutions statements reflect my own sentiments on the matter. I agree with Cooper’s defense though that it would be a bad president to convict an officer for missing, especially if the bullet that hit that Air Tran station could not be determined to have come from his weapon, I would vote to acquit him based on reasonable doubt grounds.

    Isnora was negligent and Oliver committed an execution.

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