WHY THE BELL VERDICTS WERE RIGHT
JUSTICE has been served in the Sean Bell case.
However horrific Bells slaying by police gunfire, Judge Arthur Cooperman yesterday resisted pressure to make the verdict an alleged test of civil rights - a test which, according to the citys race agitators, had only one proper and predetermined outcome - and instead decided the case on the facts before him.
The New York Police Department has already begun scouring its training to try to drive down even further the chance that such a blood-curdling tragedy is repeated. Now it falls on Mayor Bloomberg to explain to the city how rare such tragedies are and to lay out the case that the NYPD is the greatest protector of civil rights in New York - given that the No. 1 civil right is freedom from fear and violence.
THE prosecutions case began falling apart almost from the start. As Judge Cooperman noted, its witnesses contradicted their own prior statements and made claims on the stand that ballistics evidence clearly disproved.
In addition, many of the prosecutions witnesses corroborated the officers narrative of that nights events:
* They confirmed that thered been a tense exchange outside the Club Kalua (a crime-ridden strip joint in Queens) between an apparently armed man and Sean Bell and his companions (who had been celebrating Bells wedding the next day with a bachelor party at the club).
* Several acknowledged that Bell and his friends had referred to getting a gun.
* Some prosecution witnesses also verified what forensics evidence unambiguously demonstrated: that Sean Bells car had sped twice into Detective Gerald Isnora and an unmarked police van as Detective Isnora was trying to signal the car to stop.
Isnora had witnessed the threats about guns outside the club and believed that the Bell party was about to pursue the man they had just argued with for a drive-by shooting. When he and his colleagues opened fire on the Bell car, after it had twice hit them, they believed that Bells passenger Joseph Guzman was reaching for a weapon and was going to shoot them.
TO support its case for a manslaughter verdict, the prosecution needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not reasonably believe that they were facing the imminent use of deadly force, that they did not reasonably believe that their own use of deadly fire was necessary to defend themselves.
In other words, the prosecution needed to come up with an alternative explanation for why the officers shot at the car. To that end, Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa preposterously suggested that Isnora opened fire out of “rage” that the car had disobeyed his police commands to stop (a theory that contradicted another prosecution argument - namely, that Isnora had failed to identify himself as an officer) and that detective Michael Oliver hoped to win a combat valor medal.
Nothing in the record supported such allegations.
As Isnora testified to the grand jury: “In my time as an undercover, . . . I had never fired my weapon before. I never had any intention in my career . . . of even thinking of doing that. [But] I felt I had no choice [that night].”
Judge Cooperman rightly concluded that the prosecution failed to prove that the officers did not reasonably believe they were facing a deadly threat.
MOST importantly, the judge has maintained a meaningful barrier between good-faith police action that proves in retrospect to be even horribly and tragically mistaken, and criminal conduct. To convict these defendants would have required an intolerable degree of second-guessing of police decisions taken under circumstances that few civilians have ever had to face.
Tragically, innocent civilian as well as police lives hang in the balance of an officers split-second decision to use deadly force - but the urgency that Isnora felt that night is hardly fanciful
Seven months after the Sean Bell shooting, New York Officer Russel Timoshenko was fatally gunned down by the occupant of a car that he had just pulled over in Brooklyn - the 17th NYPD officer to be killed by criminals since 1999. Had Isnora waited a moment longer and had Guzman in fact been reaching for a weapon, he could have met with Timoshenkos fate.
Yes, the Sean Bell shooting was a sickening tactical disaster - but that doesnt make it a crime.
Police mistakes that night included flawed supervision -a proper game plan was apparently lacking. And the tactics undertaken - especially letting Isnora come out of undercover status to make a stop - were needlessly risky.
The NYPDs urgent review of its supervisory and tactical training is well-justified and will be aided by the rigorous firearms-discharge-review-board analysis of the shooting.
The officers themselves have escaped criminal liability, but they could face departmental discipline. Their supervisors should be even more closely scrutinized.
But while the departmental investigation runs its course, Mayor Bloomberg must set the record straight about the NYPDs role in the city.
ANTI-COP agitators and politicians are fond of claiming that the police are a threat to black lives. In fact, no single private or public agency has saved more minority lives than the NYPD.
Had murders stayed at their early 1990s levels, before the NYPD got smart about policing, 13,000-plus more New Yorkers - the overwhelming majority of them black and Hispanic - would be dead today.
In fact, even as the NYPD brought down homicide a remarkable 70 percent, it was driving down its own use of force. In 1973, there were 1.82 fatal police shootings per 1,000 New York officers; in 2006, there were .36 such shootings per 1,000 officers. And the vast majority of those police shootings are against criminals who are threatening the officer with force.
The department is one of the more restrained big-city police outfits in the country. Its fatal shooting rate is a tenth those of the Phoenix and Philadelphia departments, for example. While every mistaken shooting of an unarmed innocent civilian is an unmitigated disaster, the number of such NYPD shootings over the last two decades can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
ABOVE all else, remember this: The risk posed to New Yorkers by the police is negligible compared to the risk posed by criminals - and NYPD New York officers work their hearts out every day to try to protect law-abiding residents from crime.
If Al Sharpton and Charles Barron really cared as much about law-abiding minorities as they say they do, they would join the police in that mission -theyd stigmatize criminals, not the cops. Theyd protest outside the jail cells of rapists and robbers who terrorize the elderly and frail; theyd call on crime witnesses to cooperate with investigators.
The sad fact is, had Sean Bell been killed by a fellow club-goer, Al Sharpton and Charles Barron wouldnt have taken the slightest interest in him. The world knows about him only because he was killed by police officers.
Need proof? A week after Bells death, another groom-to-be was fatally gunned down by some robbers in Brooklyn who had just pistol-whipped three other victims.
His name was Earl Williams - and no one ever protested his death. But New Yorks police force worked to find his killer - and continue today to risk their own lives to safeguard ours.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/04262008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/justice_served_108171.htm