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Page last updated at 21:35 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 22:35 UK

Police acquitted over NY shooting

Sean Bell with his fiancee Nicole
Bell was due to marry his girlfriend Nicole, with whom he had a child

A judge in New York has acquitted three police officers who shot dead an unarmed man hours before his wedding.

Sean Bell, 23, who was black, was shot as he left a strip club in the suburb of Queens in November 2006.

Two detectives, Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora, faced charges of manslaughter. A third, Marc Cooper, had been accused of reckless endangerment.

The case had generated accusations of police racism and brutality, and there were angry protests outside the court.

Mr Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, walked out of the packed courtroom as soon as Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman cleared the three officers of all charges.

"The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified" in firing, the judge said.

The defendants had opted to not be tried by a jury.

Undercover

Mr Bell and two friends were apparently trying to drive away from the Kalua club when the shooting occurred early on the morning of 25 November 2006.

(Left to right) Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper

Mr Bell was killed and his friends both seriously injured.

Mr Isnora, who with his colleagues was investigating a prostitution ring, said he had followed the trio to their car because he believed they were going to carry out a drive-by shooting.

No gun was found in the car.

Critics argued the officers had used excessive force in firing 50 shots at the car.

A spokesman for a police union, Patrick J Lynch, told reporters that the verdict proved police officers could expect "fairness" in court.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that he accepted the authority of the court to decide the case.

"There are no winners in a trial like this. No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer," he said.

The US Department of Justice said it was conducting a review of the shooting to decide whether a federal crime had been committed.

Gasps

There was outrage at the verdict among Mr Bell's family and supporters.

Angry scenes outside court following the verdict

Inside the courtroom, Mr Bell's mother sobbed and gasps were heard as the verdict was announced.

Outside there were shouts of "murderers" from among the dozens of protesters gathered.

Some wept on each other's shoulders, while others shouted "No justice in America!"

Veteran civil rights campaigners Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson criticised the outcome, saying the case was about police accountability, not race.

Mr Jackson said the decision was a "travesty of justice".

Two of the acquitted officers were black.


SEE ALSO
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25 Feb 08 |  Americas



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