Undercover officer takes stand in Bell trial

3 NYC detectives fatally shot Bell in 2006
March 4, 2008 9:13:47 AM PST
One of the crucial questions in the Sean Bell shooting case is did police identify themselves before they fired 50 times at the groom-to-be and two of his friends? At the Sean Bell deadly police shooting trial in Queens, an undercover detective gave testimony Tuesday supporting the three defendants.

On Tuesday, Hipolito Sanchez testified that Bell's friend Joseph Guzman made a clear reference to a gun before the shooting began. But he said he did not witness the actual shooting.

Sanchez said one of the officers had his shield displayed immediately following the shooting but he doesn't remember if the other two had their badges showing.

The three officers are accused of killing the unarmed Bell outside a strip-club in November of 2006, just before he was to be married.

It was day two for Sanchez on the stand. On Monday, he testified he feld uncomfortable about the undercover operation right from the beginning.

Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett has been covering the story since the beginning. He has more from Kew Gardens.

"Yo, go get my gun and let's go [expletive] them up."

Those are the words allegedly heard by an undercover a detective moments before the shooting. It was powerful testimony on day six of this shooting trial.

The first undercover detective to take the witness stand, Hispolito Sanchez, testified. He was a member of the plain-clothes team inside the club. Sanchez' testimony is crucial to the defense because it backs up the detectives charged in this case.

They have insisted that they opened fire in the mistaken belief that one of the young men had a gun. It was a suspicion based on the observations of undercover officer Gescard Isnora. It was Sanchez who said he heard Bell's friend Joseph Guzman make reference to a gun, leading Isnora to set off after him.

The surviving victims claim the men never identified themselves as police officers. Last week, their own commander said he didn't remember seeing their shields.

Monday, the defense did some damage control, getting two medics to admit that they saw officers on the scene with badges.

"Did you observe officers wearing shields," the defense attorney Jim Culleton asked.

"I did observe officers wearing their shields, yes," the EMS lieutenant responded.

Which officers, the defense did not ask. And the prosecution never followed up.

And then there was freelance cameraman Anthony South, who shot images from the scene. The video shows one of the officers wearing a shield.

"That's my client, Michael Oliver," Culleton said. "Is he wearing a badge?"

"It appears to be a badge," South answered. "Yes."

"I think it's critical that those witnesses did say that the officers did have their shields out and around their neck," said Michael Palladino, of the Detectives Endowment Association.

To be clear, the witnesses never said which officers were wearing shields. As for Sanchez' testimony, it is totally contradicted by several eyewitness accounts of the incident, including the two surviving victims.


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