Thank you thank you thank you, Michael Wilson, for posting a full transcript of the verdict in PDF form on his NYTimes City Room blog! It’s the next best thing to being allowed in the courtroom!
In case it’s not permanently available, I’ll quote and paraphrase in pertinent part.
First, regarding the unit’s presence at Kalua Cabaret, Justice Cooperman said:
“Because establishments known as “strip clubs” often generate criminal activity including prostitution and narcotics, the Police Deptartment Club Enforcement unit was given the task of infiltrating such places and pursuing violations of law that would lead toward shutting them down.”
“So it was that the detectives charged in this case found themselves in the vicinity of Club Kalua in the morning hours of November 25, 2006.”
Later, the judge says credibility of the People’s witnesses was of paramount importance:
“The Court has found that the People’s ability to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt was affected by a combination of the following factors: the prosecution witnesses’ prior inconsistent statements, inconsistencies in testimony among prosecution witnesses, the renunciation of prior statements, criminal convictions, the interest of some witnesses in the outcome of this case, the demeanor on the stand of other witnesses and the motive witnesses may have had to lie and the effect it may have had on the truthfulness of a witness’s testimony. These factors had a significant part in the People’s ability to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and had the effect of eviscerating the credibility of those prosecution witnesses. And, at times, the testimony just didn’t make sense.”
Justice Cooperman found that the confrontation in front of the club between Coicou and the Bell group was heated, Coicou was perceived as having a gun, and that someone in Bell’s group said they’d take Coicou’s gun from him. Cooperman credited the testimony of Isnora and Sanchez and discredited all prosecution witnesses in finding that Guzman told someone to go get his gun.
Because of this, Isnora was justified in following Bell and Guzman, “two of the more active participants” the judge said, “in this heated confrontation.”
The Court also found, consistent with most of the witnesses, both prosecution and defense, that Bell’s car “sped away from its parked position,” hit Isnora, struck the police minivan head-on, reversed into a gate, and went forward again, hitting the minivan again. The incident “lasted just seconds,” and the “officers responded to perceived criminal conduct, the unfortunate consequences of their conduct were tragic.”
Because the defense was justification (self-defense), the People had the burden of proving that the defendants were not justified (acting in self-defense), which he found the People could not do. Thus, the defendants were not guilty of any of the charges.
Finding Benefield’s credibility “seriously impeached,” the Court said the evidence showed he was not shot while running.
Cooperman also found some of the defense testimony “not necessarily credible,” but, because the People have the burden of proof, that didn’t have the degree of significance as what he found to be the People’s witnesses’ contradictions and lack of credibility.
The judge also said his verdict didn’t touch upon any possible carelessness or incompetence on the part of the officers. Those are different standards of conduct, applied in a civil context, and will not be addressed here but “are left to other forums.” The detectives’ conduct simply did not rise to the level of criminality. Cooperman also said he did not consider either the Bell community or the NYPD as being on trial here, simply these particular detectives.