Sean Bell Verdict

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.


  1. The presumption that strip clubs produce prostitution and narcotics is flawed logic as a reason to do undercover work to find a crime.

    There was no evidence presented that the victims were involved in narcotics or prostitution and the cops created the crime to prevent and then bungled the arrest for nothing and killed an innocent man.

    We are presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country and the police need to work on THAT standard and have EVIDENCE and make an arrest based on evidence or catching perps in a criminal act.

    There may have not been criminal intent on the part of the cops, but there was reckless endangerment by their actions.

  2. I understand why this happened now. As I’ve posted on my blog, the verdict was in when the indictments were handed down. I said back in 2007 that any charge that required intent would not be provable.
    The march indictments did not contain a second degree manslaughter charge for the shooting of Guzman, only a first degree. That was what doomed this case. Once the officers went on record as shooting at Guzman only, then any charge related to Bell and Benefield were out the window.

    Re-read the indictment document and you’ll see what I mean.

  3. I read your blog right when I got home, Sondjata. I wondered if you got in, and saw you didn’t. I can’t believe they didn’t let anyone in. Yes, I think you have a good point about the way it was all charged. I’m glad the judge at least said he wasn’t speaking to carelessness or incompetence and that that was an issue for another forum. I’ll be watching the civil trial with interest. I don’t know if I can attend that trial, but I’ll be interested in knowing about it. And all other proceedings in this case. Let me know if you attend any of those — I’ll be reading your blog.

  4. You will never get a conviction as sondjata says which implies there was intent. Cops would never admit intent to harm anyone. All they do is protect innocent lives and act in self defense.

    Of course the self defense here was all pre conceived perception or racial profiling. Young blacks are assumed to be up to no good and it’s just a matter of catching them at it.

    So these cops are looking to close down a business because some A**hole thinks pay sex is a problem. Oh I forgot it’s selling drugs that is such a danger to the community. Oh I forgot they aren’t protecting the community they are terrorizing it with their shoot first and keep shooting until nothing is moving approach to strippers and guys buying nickel bags in a flop joint.

    These cops are guilty as is the policy brass for this policy and this type of training. These no accountability for guilty victims until proven innocent is only alienating the blacks and they know they are marked more each day, each time one of these asshole judges says there was no intent.

    There is intent to terrorize the black community. It works just like torture. They don’t get any good information from torture, but they are trying to send a message that the USA will play dirty and the gloves are off.

    You won’t see this happening at Scores, will you. Why aren’t they trying to close that strip joint? Ha?

  5. I watched the press conference from Sharpton’s HQ the morning after the verdict and I saw something very big start to bubble over. I’ll be heading out for the protests, that’s for sure.

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