NEW YORK – Witnesses interviewed for a preliminary report on the police shooting of three men — including a groom on his wedding day — did not mention a fourth, possibly armed man who police say may have been present before officers opened fire, a newspaper reported Monday.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the police department's 23-page preliminary report of the shooting, a detailed look at what happened on Nov. 25 when Sean Bell, 23, and his two friends were caught in a barrage of 50 bullets after a bachelor party at a strip club in Queens. Bell's friends were wounded; all three men were unarmed.
Police have suggested a fourth man may have had a gun and fled when the plainclothes officers opened fire, but the report made no mention of such a man, whom the surviving victims have said does not exist. Some in the community claim the officers invented the man to justify the shooting.
The report also contains no indication that police were searching after the shooting for a fourth man, the paper said.
The preliminary report includes summaries of interviews with Lt. Gary Napoli, who was supervising a team conducting an undercover operation at the strip club on the night of the shooting, two sergeants who responded after the gunfire began and 10 other officers, according to The Times. Also included are synopses of accounts by three civilian witnesses, including one of the victims, Trent Benefield.
Police investigators did not interview the five shooters in deference to an investigation by the Queens district attorney probe that could result in criminal charges.
In his statement to police, Benefield said Bell repeatedly drove forward and in reverse after officers opened fire, the newspaper reported. His account contradicts police statements that the detective opened fire after being hit by Bell's car.
The report reveals that none of the witnesses recalled hearing anything close to 50 rounds, The Times said. The sergeants who arrived after the shooting told investigators that two of the plainsclothes officers said they were unsure whether they had even fired at all, the newspaper reported.
The report also emphasizes that Napoli and his team were concerned that men outside the club could have been armed before the shooting, The Times said.
A police spokesman said early Monday no senior official would be available to comment on the report's findings until later in the day.