NEW YORK – One of two men wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets that killed their unarmed friend hours before his wedding was released from a hospital, hours after disputing a police account of the shooting.
In an interview Tuesday at a Queens hospital, Trent Benefield was asked if it was true that a fourth companion, possibly armed, fled the scene of the Nov. 25 shooting outside a Queens strip club.
"No," he told NY1 News in a soft voice. "No fourth man."
Benefield, 23, who was shot three times in the legs, was released Tuesday evening and met with the black civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, according to Sharpton's office. The shooting has raised outrage, particularly among New York's black community.
"I thank Al Sharpton and the community for sticking by me," Benefield said from a wheelchair flanked by his mother, attorney and pregnant fiancee.
Benefield did not address the Nov. 25 confrontation or the investigation into it upon leaving the hospital.
He arrived by black limousine with his attorney and relatives at a meeting of community leaders called by Sharpton, a minister and former presidential candidate. The group announced a mass march Dec. 16 through midtown Manhattan's shopping district.
Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, were badly wounded in the shooting by five officers outside a Queens strip club as the men sat in their friend Sean Bell's car. Bell, 23, was killed hours before he was to marry his high school sweetheart.
Police have said an undercover officer began following Bell and his friends to their car after overhearing Guzman threaten to retrieve a gun in a dispute with another man.
As the car started to pull away, it bumped the officer and smashed into an unmarked police van, police said.
The five officers have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation by the Queens district attorney's office.
Through his lawyer, the initial shooter has insisted he had his badge out and had identified himself when he opened fire, believing Guzman was pulling a gun. He and other witnesses also have said there was a fourth man in or near the car who escaped on foot, possibly with a weapon.
The Rev. Calvin Butts, of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, said community leaders planned to meet again with Mayor Michael Bloomberg soon and were considering calling for the resignation of police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
"The changes that have to be made have to be systemic, and many believe that starts at the top, that means Kelly," Butts said.
Bloomberg has expressed support for Kelly.