Cops Cleared in Groom's 50-Shot Slaying

He called on Bell supporters to rally across the city Saturday and vowed they would "close the city down" as they attempt to put pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute the officers.

"They want us to act crazy," Sharpton warned, urging protesters to resist violence, but acknowledging there would likely be arrests. "We are going to be strategic. We are going to close the city down in a nonviolent way."

At the same time, the three officers and their union held a news conference that was broadcast live where Michael Palladino, president of the New York City's Detective Endowment Association, said Sharpton's "abortion" crack was "despicable."

Amid all the anger, Cooper, one of the officers cleared, stepped up to thank his family, union and lawyers. While struggling to remain composed, Cooper also said, "I'd like to say sorry to the Bell family for the tragedy."

The officers sought a nonjury trial after police complained that pretrial publicity had characterized them in a negative light. While allegations of excessive force were the main issue, racial tension surrounded the case from the day of the shooting. The victim was black, but two of the police officers, Isnora and Cooper, are also black. Oliver is white.

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

Different Stories

During the trial the prosecution and defense laid out starkly different accounts of what happened in the street early that morning.

The prosecution failed to convince the judge that Bell and friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were wounded in the confrontation, did nothing to provoke aggressive officers engaged in a sting operation at the strip club.

Some of the officers involved claimed that they heard Bell talking about a gun during a dust-up with a stranger as the club closed around 4 a.m. Isnora called for backup, telling his supervisors the situation was "getting hot."

Isnora followed Bell to his car and backup officers told Bell to stop as he and his two friends tried to drive away, the officers said. Bell bumped Isnora with the car and rammed an unmarked police van. Guzman then made some type of sudden move that convinced Isnora he had a gun.

The cops started shooting and amid all the noise and shattering glass, believed they were facing gunfire themselves.

When the firing stopped, there was no firearm to recover from Bell's blood-splattered car.

Benefield and Guzman, Bell's companions, testified that the shooting erupted out of nowhere. On the stand, Guzman called Isnora a "dude" and described him "shooting like he's crazy, like he's out of his mind."

Benefield and Guzman denied that the police identified themselves or issued any orders to them before they began firing.

Bell supporters challenged the judge's decision.

Support Continues

"We have not heard what these men did that caused police to act as though they were 'America's Most Wanted,'" Leroy Gadsden, of the New York City NAACP, said. "We haven't heard any of these men having a gun threatening anybody."

Gadsden said that the NAACP will continue to seek justice for Bell.

"This court unfortunately is bankrupt when it comes to justice for the people of color," he said.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who prosecuted the case, said that he accepted Cooperman's verdict and urged "fair-minded people" to do the same.

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