Sharpton pleads not guilty in Bell protests

July 8, 2008 11:04:23 AM PDT
The Rev. Al Sharpton has pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct for protests he led over the acquittals of three New York City police officers in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man on his wedding day. Citywide demonstrations clogged intersections and snarled traffic in May. More than 200 people were arrested, including Nicole Paultre Bell, the fiancee of slain groom Sean Bell, and two other men injured in the 2006 shooting. The charges included disorderly conduct for blocking traffic or refusing orders to disperse.

Paultre Bell, her mother and cousin also appeared in court Tuesday. Charges will be dropped against them in six months as long as they stay out of trouble.

Since Sharpton had a previous arrest record, he was offered time served if he pleaded guilty to the charge, but he chose not to take it and must return to court on July 28.

"I think it is disorderly to be in a city where unarmed men are shot 50 times, and one killed and two wounded, and you do nothing," Sharpton said. "I think that would be more guilty of disorderly conduct."

Paultre Bell, wearing a button with Bell's photo, said she was prepared to be arrested again on civil disobedience charges if necessary. "We're still praying for justice," she said.

Brooklyn and Manhattan prosecutors said charges will be similarly dismissed against more than 154 of the other protesters.

At least nine pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, and some cases are still pending in Manhattan. Those cases will likely be eventually dismissed as is the practice with most civil disobedience cases, prosecutors said.

Sharpton's attorneys said they were working with prosecutors to resolve the case ahead of the court hearing.

Bell, 23, died in a hail of 50 bullets on Nov. 25, 2006, around the corner from a Queens topless bar where he had been celebrating his bachelor party and where undercover police were investigating complaints of prostitution.

Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper were cleared of manslaughter and other charges in April after a two-month trial heard by a judge instead of a jury. The detectives said they opened fire on Bell's car because they believed he and his friends were armed and because the men defied orders to halt and tried to drive away. No weapon was recovered.

Sharpton said other protests planned for the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium next Tuesday were suspended as a show of good faith to lawmakers in Albany working on bills related to the shootings.

Among the legislation being considered is a pilot program that would place mini-cameras on police weapons, and a mandate to have officers involved in a shooting undergo a Breathalyzer test.

"We want legislative and permanent change," Sharpton said.