Monday, November 27, 2006
UPDATE: Two very different columns crystalize the difficulty in figuring out what exactly happened early Saturday morning. My Post colleague Murray Weiss, with very good sources in the police department, sketches out the sequence of events from the police perspective:
Meanwhile, the Daily News' Michael Daly, a pretty good columnist himself, finds a man-on-the-street account:
Dramatic new details of the deadly mayhem include the undercover cop at one point climbing onto the hood of Bell's car - his gun drawn and his police shield around his neck - screaming, "Police! Turn off your car!
Let me see your hands!" said sources who talked to some of the cops involved in the shooting.
When Bell then tried to run down the plainclothes officer - twice - the cop began shooting, with some of his 11 bullets piercing the rear window of the man's Nissan Altima, the sources said.
This left the cop's backup unit - which was just arriving on the scene amid shattering glass and the undercover's shouts of "He's got a gun!" - thinking they were being fired upon from inside the vehicle. That's when they returned fire with another 39 bullets.
One 12-year veteran, a narcotics detective, pumped 31 bullets, authorities said.
The sources recounted step-by-step how quickly things spiraled out of control after a dispute inside the club involving one of Bell's associates. According to the sources, two undercovers were at the strip joint as part of the NYPD's new Club Enforcement Initiative. The program was started after the July slaying of 18-year-old Jennifer Moore of New Jersey, who partied at a
Chelsea club before being abducted, raped and killed in a Weehawken hotel.
The undercovers, who usually worked in Manhattan, were on the last night of their two-month Queens job to try to nail the Kalua and other clubs on such violations as drugs and underage prostitution.
Inside the club, one of the plainclothes cops sat next to a woman he thought was a hooker and might proposition him, the sources said.
Suddenly, a burly man approached them and told the woman that he had heard she had gotten into a fight with a group of guys earlier in the club. It was unclear what it was over.
The man said, "'Don't worry, baby, I got you covered,' and he takes her hand, and he rubs it
across [the gun in] his waistband," a source said. "Then he tells her, 'That's
what I'm here for.' "
It's unclear how the man smuggled his weapon past the metal detector outside the club. He likely was a regular who knew the bouncer at the door and may have worked there part time, helping with security, the sources said.
The undercover then went outside the club and radioed his backup to tell them there was a man inside with a gun. It was around 3:30 a.m.
While the undercover was outside, the suspect came out along with the girl and others,
since it was around closing time.
The undercover watched as an argument erupted between Bell's group, which included three male pals and the beefy man with the gun, and four other men - with the woman in the middle of them, the sources said.
The woman was overheard saying to the men arguing with Bell's pals, "I'm not doing you all. I'll do one or two, but not all," according to the sources.
Around the same time, the undercover said he heard Bell's friend Joseph Guzman tell his buddies, "Yo, get my gun! Get my gun! Let's get my gun from the car! Yeah, we're gonna f- - - him up!" the sources said.
The undercover, thinking there was about to be a drive-by shooting in front of the club involving Bell's group, followed Guzman, Bell and two others to their car.
"It's getting hot! Something's going to happen! Something's going down!" the undercover radioed to his backup.
He hurried to the front of Bell's Altima, which was parked on the side of nearby Liverpool Street, and jumped in front of it.
That's when the undercover put his right leg up on the hood of the Altima and began screaming that he was a cop, the sources said.
Everything from the number of shell casings around the car to the absence of a gun inside it to the witness accounts suggests the police officers who shot three unarmed young men early Saturday morning did so in the mistaken and panicked belief they were in mortal danger.
The same facts and statements suggest the three young men in the car who repeatedly tried to crash past an unmarked police van did so in their own mistaken and panicked belief they were in mortal danger. One was climbing into the back of the car when he saw a tall figure in street attire approach in the early morning darkness.
"Yo, my man, come here, my man, let me holler at you," the figure was heard to call out.
The tall figure was holding something black by his side.
"He's got a gat! He's got a gat! Be out! Be out!" the young man climbing into the car shouted.
The figure was an undercover cop, but by one witness account neither he nor his comrades announced themselves as police officers until after Sean Bell tried in vain to drive away and six to 10 shots were fired.
"That's when somebody started shouting, 'Police! Police! Put your hands out! Put your hands out!'" recalls witness China Flores.
The shooting only intensified. "That's when all hell broke loose," Flores says.
The cops say their man identified himself as an undercover police officer -- and the groom tried to run him over. Another witness says that there was no identification -- and the groom and pals thought they were being jumped by someone with a gun (a reasonable reaction given the alleged altercation that had previously taken place).
And there you have the seeds for a tragedy.
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