New York City Ordered to Pay $7 Million in Sean Bell Case

Closing a key chapter in one of the most controversial police shootings in recent memory, New York City agreed on Tuesday to pay more than $7 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family and two friends of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old black man who was fatally shot by the police in 2006 on what would have been his wedding day.
The decision by the city came after two days of intense negotiations in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. The children whom Mr. Bell had with his fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, will receive $3.25 million, and two friends of Mr. Bell’s who were injured in the episode will also receive payments, with Joseph Guzman getting $3 million, and Trent Benefield $900,000.

The lawsuit, filed in 2007, accused the police of wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations. But it had repeatedly stalled as the state and federal governments and city police officials investigated the shooting.

The case, whose settlement ranks among the biggest in recent years involving the city’s police, set off a raw debate over the use of deadly force and prompted the city to change some of its policing procedures. Those include alcohol testing for officers in any shooting in which someone is injured, as well as improved firearms training.

On Nov. 25, 2006, five police officers — three of whom were black and two white — fired 50 shots into the Nissan Altima that Mr. Bell was driving outside a strip club in Queens. The car struck a detective in the leg and hit a police van just before the officers began firing.

None of the three men in the car had guns, although the officers apparently believed at least one did.

Three of the officers were acquitted of manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges in State Supreme Court in Queens in 2008. The other two officers who opened fire did not face criminal charges.

Federal prosecutors declined in February to file civil rights charges against the officers, citing insufficient evidence.

(New York Times)