Civil suit against city, NYPD in Bell shooting case

A civil lawsuit has been filed against New York City and the NYPD for the deadly police shooting of Sean Bell.

March 10, 2010 9:25:39 AM PST
Family members and those close to Sean Bell have taken the first step in a federal lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD.Bell's parents, Nicole Paultre Bell and the two friends who were wounded by police, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, appeared before a judge Wednesday morning.

Federal Judge Sterling Johnson said it's been nearly four years since the shooting, and it now time for the civil case to begin.

The family of Sean Bell has been disappointed in the past, but hold out hope that when the case resumes on May 6, they will be closer to the date a civil jury will hear from the officers involved in the shooting death of their son.

"These four years have been hell," the victim's father, William Bell, said. "Really, it's been hell."

The judge has given the NYPD less that two months to deal with disciplinary actions against the officers involved in the November 25, 2006 shooting. Since the incident on the night before Bell's wedding, officers Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper have been acquitted in criminal court and the US Justice Department didn't take action. But lawyers for the victims say the outcome could be different in a civil case.

"So the burden of proof is different," the victims' lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said. "And they're also going to have jury here to make a determination with regard to the liability and the fault of the defendants in this case."

Lawyers for the city argued the civil case shouldn't proceed until the police department finishes its administrative process against the cops, who still work for the NYPD. They were working undercover on the night of the shooting and fired 50 shots, killing Bell and injuring Guzman and Benefield. The victims were all unarmed.

"These officers now have to testify as to why they interfered with the rights of these individuals, who did nothing but celebrate the wedding of a young man," the victims' attorney, Michael Hardy, said.

The families of the victims realize there is still a long road ahead before they receive the kind of justice they have been seeking.

"Maybe, might get a little bit of peace," William Bell said. "But that's still not going to be enough for us, because we can't bring him back."

The lawyers of the victims have asked for $50 million apiece. But it will be up to a jury to make final decision.