NEW YORK – Two New York Police Department detectives surrendered Monday in the killing of an unarmed groom on his wedding day, and face a charge that would require jail time if they are convicted.
The eight-count indictment charges Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times, and Gerard Isnora, a decorated undercover who fired 11 bullets, with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the November death of bridegroom Sean Bell, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said at a news conference.
First-degree manslaughter is classified as a violent felony with mandated jail time if the policemen are convicted. The maximum punishment is 25 years, Brown said. Second-degree manslaughter gives a judge discretion to sentence a defendant to probation.
A third policeman, Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, faces a misdemeanor endangerment charge. The indictment says he fired a bullet that passed "through a window of an occupied AirTrain station" across the street from the strip club where the incident occurred.
Oliver also was charged with endangerment in connection with a bullet that went through the window of an occupied house.
Two other policemen were not charged, but have been placed on desk duty along with their supervisor as the NYPD continues its internal investigation.
"I believe this office and this grand jury got the results that were most appropriate," said Brown.
"It falls short of what we want," countered the Rev. Al Sharpton. "Clearly, all five officers should be charged; all officers acted in concert."
"This case, at its best, is a return to grief for all of those involved," said Sharpton, who held a press conference while flanked by one of the wounded men and the dead man's fiance.
"Although some people will be disappointed in the grand jury's decision, we have to respect the result of our justice system," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The three indicted policemen, who have been suspended without pay, surrendered around 7 a.m. to the NYPD's Bureau of Internal Affairs, then were whisked to the Queens court complex in black vehicles. A phalanx of plainclothes law enforcers and family members surrounded them as they were rushed into the building for fingerprinting and processing.
All three pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Monday afternoon. Sharpton was present in the courtroom, along with shooting victims Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, and Nicole Paultre Bell, who was engaged to Bell and legally took his name after he died.
State Supreme Court Justice Randall Eng set bail for Oliver and Isnora at $250,000 bond, or $100,000 cash. Cooper was released without bail.
"This grand jury acted in the most responsible and conscientious fashion," Brown said earlier Monday. "This was a case that was, I'm sure, not easy for them to resolve."
Brown said he would oppose any attempts to move the trial out of Queens. "This is where public opinion is equally divided, in my opinion. The jury should be representative of the diversity of this county."
The case has renewed allegations that the NYPD is too trigger-happy, and sparked protests by activists who say the department is too quick to judge black men harshly, a claim city officials deny.
"...Although a trial will decide whether crimes were committed in this case, day in and day out the NYPD does an incredible job under very difficult circumstances," said Bloomberg, adding that the case has led Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly "to rightly examine several aspects of police operations, including undercover work and contagious shooting."
"Recognizing that the shooting death of an unarmed individual by police has exacerbated relations in the minority community," Kelly said in a statement, "the Police Department will redouble its efforts to build the best possible relations with all of New York City's diverse communities through continued improvements in police training, recruitment and community outreach."
Bell was black, as are the two bachelor party guests who were severely wounded, Guzman and Benefield. Cooper, 39, and Isnora, 28, are also black; Oliver, 35, is white.
Asked whether he would consider a plea bargain, Brown was noncommital, saying, "I don't know if any offers were made by the attorneys."
"We certainly would hope that they will not entertain in any way, shape or form a plea bargain in this case," responded Sharpton. "This case should be brought to trial and there ought to be a maximum prosecution and, we hope, conviction."
"These were officers of the law operating under the cover of the law and had the ability beyond what a normal citizen would have and they in our judgment —and clearly as certified by this grand jury — used that privilege to engage in criminal activity," said Sharpton.