Sean Bell: Verdict Looms

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[On The Spot]


After weeks of testimony Sean Bell’s family, his friends, supporters and the Queens community is waiting to hear the verdict that Judge Cooperman said he would deliver on Friday, April 25th.

The fate of the criminal justice system, the community and the three NYPD officers on trial is now in the judge’s hands.

No matter what verdict Judge Arthur Cooperman delivers, the case was already off-track when he received it. The Queens County District Attorney’s office failed to deliver a true bill on each officer who fired their weapon at Bell’s vehicle and failed to convince the Grand Jury to charge these officers with the top charges -- murder and attempted murder.

Did the Grand Jury really listen to Lieutenant Gary Napoli’s testimony? Because if he testified before the Grand Jury the way he did in open court – there should have been strong cries for a Special Prosecutor to review the Grand Jury’s findings in the interest of justice.

Lieutenant Napoli’s testimony by itself raised many red flags explaining his position during the execution-style type shooting where a hail of 50-plus bullets were discharged from the firearms of five specially trained New York Police Department (NYPD) finest, which in the aftermath, left Sean Bell dead on his wedding day and his two friends, Joseph Guzman clinging to life and Trent Benefield seriously injured.

None of the victims were in possession of any weapons and no criminal charges were filed against them before or after the November 25, 2007, shooting.

On November 24, 2007, Lieutenant Napoli was the supervisor in charge of the nine “Club Initiative” members (the term for the undercover agents) assigned to him, which he knew may have been their last tour together. “There was going to be massive changes to the unit or it may be cut in half,” Napoli would tell his team before hitting the streets that night.

According to the New York Police Department’s policy, an undercover officer can have two drinks. It was not made clear as to what type of drink could be consumed – or two drinks in each club visited – or if the uncover should continue to process a firearm after drinking. Normally, the NYPD has a zero tolerance policy for any drinking of an alcoholic beverage.

Detective Gescard “Jesse” Isnora was the officer who was deep undercover. He worked only five years as a policeman and this night, according to the NYPD report, he was all over the place. It was Isnora who appeared to have pumped up his team into thinking someone had a gun – and he was the first to discharge his firearm 11 times after observing Bell’s vehicle from the passenger’s side.

Bell was pulling out from the parking space heading toward 94th Street when the undercover police van made a right turn onto Liverpool Street, accelerated with wheels screeching – then smashed into Bell’s vehicle on the passenger’s side, which was witnessed by a Kalua dancer.

“The driver got out left his door open and fired three times at Bell’s car,” she later stated. The driver was Officer Michael Carey who was not charged in the indictment. Carey’s partner, Detective Michael Oliver, exited the van and discharged his weapon 31 times pausing for a few seconds only to reload. Two of Oliver’s bullets hit Sean Bell causing his demise.

Napoli did not fire his weapon and surprisingly answered questions as to why he did not: “I took cover and did not have a target to shoot at.” He was in the same vehicle as Detective Paul Headley and Detective Marc Cooper who both fired their weapons.

The idea of thinking like a jury was taken away when the three cops waived their right to be tried by a jury of their peers and demanded a bench trial to have their actions judged solely by a judge – leaving public opinion to now begin to think like a judge, absent the charges of murder and attempted murder.

In his opening statement, one of the representing attorneys told Judge Cooperman to listen carefully to what the witnesses are going to say and the evidence would speak for itself. One piece of evidence happened to be the Club Initiative’s “Tactical Sheet,” which had troubled night clubs listed, and the ones they would visit during their tour of duty. However, this sheet was clearly marked with white-out, which raises more red flags because it is an official document – and the Kalua Cabaret was not listed on said sheet – the night in question.

People in the community are said to have complained about the Kalua Cabaret having problems with drugs and under age prostitution. The South Jamaica Community Board did not know of any such complaints, nor was the area precinct notified about the Club Initiative team working at the Kalua.

The whole “Sean Bell case,” is based on the Kalua Cabaret; however, Napoli’s testimony created more holes in this case than a slice of Swiss cheese. “We needed one more arrest incident to close the Kalua Cabaret down,” Napoli stated under oath. But that did not happen because, “The club closed on time at 4 A.M., the time clubs are supposed to close,” he said.

The shooting occurred at approximately 4:14 A.M, more than 10 minutes after the Kalua Cabaret had closed – yet there were reports of the shooting taking place outside the Kalua Cabaret when in fact, the shooting took place approximately a city block and a half away from the club.

The true location of the Queens County crime scene is Liverpool Street between 94th and 95th Streets, the place where Sean Bell parked his car for the last time.

“The police cut the lock and broke into the club after the shooting,” a Kalua worker who did not want to give a name told me. “They were looking for the video tape, which records the search area and everyone entering the club, but my boss had already taken the tape.” It is not clear if this tape was turned over to the NYPD or the Grand Jury.

Too many stories about the shooting continued to break down and did not add up. If Bell, while in the club, patted his side as if to have had a gun, why not corner him, search him, and then arrest him in the club with the gun on him?

That would have been the arrest the team was looking for; they would have been able to close the club down and the night would have been over. But, it did not end that way because there was no gun.

There was nothing going on inside the Kalua Cabaret that warranted any undercover unit to blow its cover. However, if the unit was going to be dismantled anyway, so there was no reason to stay undercover, which may have lead to bad judgment calls being made that night.

The male members of the Club Initiative team thought someone was going to get a gun and they watched Bell and his friends walk to the car and then get in the car. It did not make sense then and it does not make sense now – because if you know someone is going to get a gun out of a car, once you learn which car they are going to get in, you stop them in the act; then search the vehicle.

But, this did not happen, because there was no gun.

One of the Kalua dancers was leaving the club and on her way to Liverpool Street. A male she remembers being in the club asked her for a date and she replied, “I don’t do dates.” This gentleman turned out to be one of the Club Initiative members. However, he could not have made an arrest for prostitution because he solicited her, which begs the question – what were these cops really doing that night?

Two of the shooters have already been cut loose. If Judge Cooperman finds Oliver and Isnora guilty of manslaughter, they could face up to 25 years in jail. Cooper, who is being charged with reckless endangerment, could face a year.

In the case of Amadou Diallo, he was shot at approximately 49 times by four NYPD Street Crime Unit cops and hit 19 times causing his demise. The trial was moved from the Bronx County Supreme Court to an Albany jury and the four officers who discharged their weapon was charged with murder. They were set free.

Judge Cooperman listened to the two living victims in the Sean Bell case; Guzman and Benefield tell their story. Will he weigh what Sean Bell would have said?


Contact Winkfield for his consideration regarding covering your own story: (347) 632-2272 By mail: On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423; Email: or; call (212) 481-7745. Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about. To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to
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