Cops in Sean Bell Shooting Won't Face Federal Civil Rights Charges

Justice Department says insufficient evidence to proceed

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Family photo
    Sean Bell and his fiancee Nicole Paultre.

    The officers who gunned down an unarmed Sean Bell on the morning of his wedding won't face federal civil rights charges, sources familiar with the case told NBC New York. 

    The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced their findings Tuesday. U.S. prosecutors reviewed the case after the officers were acquitted in April 2008 in a state trial in Queens.

    In a statement, the Justice Department said "there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges" against the officers.

    "Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.... Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation," the statement explained.

    The family of Sean Bell said they were disappointed by the decision.

    It's uncommon for U.S. prosecutors to file civil rights charges against police officers, especially those who have been acquitted in lower courts. 

    The apparent decision not to charge the three detectives in this case is thus not surprising, but it is nonetheless disappointing for the family who lost the 23-year-old Bell to a hail of 50 police bullets just hours before he was supposed to walk down the aisle with fiancée Nicole Paultre-Bell.

    "They said they were limited by statutes and evidence," a distraught William Bell, Sean's father, told the Daily News after he met with prosecutors. "I'm not a lawyer, what can I say. My son's dead, and they can't do anything about it. He can't even rest in peace."

    The Nov. 25. 2006, shooting sparked massive outcry across the nation, with civil-rights advocates leading protests and demanding what they perceived to be just convictions for the detectives who shot and killed Bell. Bell had been outside a strip club with two friends after his bachelor's party when undercover cops investigating reports of prostitution at the club apparently misheard their conversation and thought one had a gun.

    No weapon was found.

    The would-be groom's friends, who were seriously wounded in the fusillade, have led the charge for retribution in conjunction with Bell's family.

    The Rev. Al Sharpton voiced "extreme disappointment" over the decision.  In a statement he said "Even though two of the three officers in question were Black we will not stop our pursuit of justice in this matter until every measure in the criminal and civil arena has been exhausted. Fifty shots on an unarmed man who engaged in no crime is intolerable."

    But Michael Palladino, the President of the Detectives’ Endowment Association,  said he was "gratified" by the Justice Department's decision.

    "The Bell family’s disappointment is a result of the misinformation disseminated by Al Sharpton from the very beginning.  He made this case into something that it was not," Palladino said.
     

    Jonathan Dienst WNBC

    WNBC Jonathan DIenst