One Night in New York: 50 Shots

As police conduct their investigation into what happened in the New York borough of Queens on the night of Nov. 25, Sean Bell's friend Jean Nelson says he saw everything when the young bridegroom was shot to death by police.

"I was with him the whole day. That day was just me and him," Nelson explained in an exclusive interview with "Nightline's" Martin Bashir.

"He was buying clothes, because we was going out later on that night. We came back home. We had a little drink. He was drinking, laughing, joking," Nelson said.

Their destination on the night of Nov. 25 was the Kalua Club in Queens, near the Air Train station that ferries passengers to Kennedy airport.


It would be Bell's last night of bachelorhood before marrying his longtime girlfriend, Nicole Paultre, at a local church the following day. Little did he know that it would be his last night alive.

The Kalua Club, and the Club Enforcement Task Force

Another close-knit group was also heading to the Kalua Club that night. Undercover police officers, known as the Club Enforcement Task Force, gathered at the 7th Precinct in Manhattan, preparing to drive north to Queens. Since October of last year, police had been called to the club 26 times and made eight arrests for prostitution, drugs and weapons. The team would put the club under surveillance once again.

The bachelor party arrived sometime after 11 p.m. Security searched them all as they entered the club. They had no weapons or guns and enjoyed toasting Bell's good health into the early hours of the morning.

Nelson, however, says he arrived much later than the group, so late that he couldn't get in because the club was closing. It was almost 4 a.m., and he met Bell outside. He says Bell was having an argument with another man -- unknown to both of them.

"The guy was like, 'Yeah, back up'… this and that, had his hands in his pocket, like he had a gun," explained Nelson. "He was pointing his pocket, like, 'Back up, I'll shoot you.'"

Nelson said he told Bell that it was foolish to get into any kind of dispute the night before his wedding. The man with whom they'd argued got into his car and drove away.

'He Started Firing'

The group of around eight friends began walking toward Bell's car. The police undercover unit had also left the club. Some members of the police team witnessed the altercation and have reported hearing a man in Bell's party say, "Go get my gun."

Nelson said Bell crossed the road and got into his Nissan Altima with friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.

"I got behind S.," explained Benefield. "We was about to drive off. A man walked up to the car with his gun out."

According to both Benefield and Jean Nelson, the man never identified himself as a police officer. Instead, Nelson said, "He see the guy with the gun. He don't know he's police because he's not stating that he's police, or he got no badge or nothing."

Nelson was asked if the man who approached Bell's car started firing. "Sean's pulling out or whatever. He hopped over the car and then he started firing."

When asked how many shots were fired, Nelson said, "To be honest with you, I can't remember, 'cause after the first shot, they just started letting all shots go."

"Nightline" has learned that people at the scene say they heard the undercover officer with the gun tell the men in the car only, "Let me holler at you," before firing his weapon.

'Hell Is Going On'

The undercover officer on foot fired 11 times, according to police accounts, and he was soon joined by four other officers who also opened fire. Nelson said he ran, fearing for his life.

"Basically, hell is going on," he said. "They basically shooting … like it's cross firing. I'm trying to get out of there. So I ducked and started running."

Benefield was in Bell's car. He was hit once in each leg and then desperately tried to run away.

"I opened the door, jumped out and started running. Scared. I took about 25, 30 steps before I was hit again. Like right under … like under my butt."

Nelson said he saw Benefield after he'd been shot on the sidewalk.

"His legs was shaking on the ground," he said. "He was screaming. He was saying he can't feel his legs. After that, we got out of there."

Fifty Shots

Police had fired a total of 50 times. One detective, Mike Oliver -- who'd never previously discharged his weapon -- alone fired 31 shots.

In total, 21 bullets hit Bell's car. Shots also struck a nearby house, other vehicles and, astonishingly, the Air Train platform high above the road and more than 100 feet away. A commuter captured on closed circuit cameras could be seen inches from a bullet as it burst into the glass platform windows. He dumped his bags and ran for his life.

Guzman, Benefield and Bell were taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, where Bell was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m. He was due to be married that day. Instead of attending his wedding, his family was forced to plan his funeral.

Later that day, police sources suggested there was a fourth man in the car, who had a gun and then disappeared from the scene. But both Benefield and Nelson insist there were only three people in the car. Benefield said, "There was no fourth man … just me, Sean, and Joe."

When asked if there was a fourth man who left the club, walked with them, and didn't get in the car, Benefield said, "It was more than a fourth, it was a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. But when we got to the car, it was only three of us."

No Fourth Man

And Nelson believes there is an ulterior motive for the suggestion.

"I mean, basically, I think they said that because they gotta cover they own self," he said. "Fourth man, whatever, there wasn't no fourth man getting in the car that night, so they couldn't show no fourth man. They showed people running, but there was no fourth man with no gun or nothing like that. They gotta cover they self, so they gonna make up anything."

The Queens district attorney is conducting an investigation and has asked community leaders to be patient until he completes his findings. For Benefield, Nelson and Bell's fiancée, Nicole, he will need to explain how three unarmed men came to be fired at 50 times by undercover detectives who, the victims and eyewitnesses say, never mentioned the fact that they were police officers.

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said they all deserve an explanation. He went to Bell's fiancée's house on the night she was expecting to get married.

"I remember that night we all went out to the fiancée's house," Sharpton said. "Trent's mother and Guzman's family, the Bell parents -- and we sat there and was talking and I looked over at … Nicole and she was looking at the dress she was supposed to be in then, getting married. … What's she going to tell those kids? What do we all tell our kids? 50 shots! Explain that."