"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Friday, April 25, 2008

Not Guilty...

Three NYPD detectives acquited of manslaughter charges for the fatal shooting of a soon-to-be-groom, Sean Bell, as he emerged from a late night bachelor's party in Queens. Detective Isnora tried to stop Bell for investigation and the Detective thought Bell was pulling out a gun. Bell refused warnings to stop and show his hands to the Detective. Tragically, Bell did not have a gun. The central issue in the case was whether Bell and his companions knew that Isnora and and the other Detectives were police officers.

In a detailed account at the trial of [Detective]Isnora and Detectives Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver, [police officer Michael] Carey said the cops fired in self-defense after Bell gunned the engine of his Nissan Altima and tried to run Isnora down. "The engines were still revving as if the foot was on the gas pedal," the officer said. Carey said Isnora fired at Bell's buddy, Joseph Guzman, who was sitting in the front seat. He said Guzman had to have known that Isnora was a cop.
Carey, 27, fired three times, but was not indicted. He acknowledged he did not pull his police badge out from under his T-shirt or identify himself as a cop before he shot. "At that point, the shooting had already started," said Carey, who was part of an undercover unit doing a prostitution sting at the Queens club where Bell, 23, just had his bachelor party.
"I had observed the people in the vehicle disregard police commands, assault the police officer," he said. "I didn't feel that any verbal commands would do any good at that point."

The case was decided by a judge, because the defendants waived a jury, a decision Al Sharpton criticized. One wonders whether Sharpton's criticism suggests that he believes and perhaps hopes a jury would ignore the evidence and convict based simply on emotion or the fact that the defendants are police officers. The judge who heard the case has convicted police officers before and sent them to jail.

The prosecution had a tough row to hoe, since police can use deadly force if they have a "reasonable" belief that their lives or those of civilians are in immediate danger, even if that belief is mistaken. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were reckless and not merely mistaken is a big hurdle; one that was too high in this particular case.

Of course, no matter what the prosecution does, without a conviction some will imply a conspiracy to throw the case because, after all, prosecutors never question what the police do. Yet the fact that the case was vigorously tried and the evidence put on before a judge not known for simply giving a free pass to the police indicates that again, the system worked.

A reasonable, but mistaken, shooting by the police is a tragedy, not a crime.

The Defendants

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