Calling the 50 shots fired by officers "unacceptable," Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed Monday to ensure the city conducts a thorough investigation into the fatal police shooting this weekend of a groom on his wedding day.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly met with elected officials and religious leaders at City Hall Monday to discuss the Saturday morning shooting. Many of the participants said the meeting went well, but others remain outraged at the actions of police officers.
"We said to the mayor: 'We understand the crime problem, we understand because many of our communities have the worst crime problems," said Reverend Al Sharpton. "But imagine, Mr. Mayor, living in a city where you have to worry about the cops and the robbers, some people have to worry about the robbers, we have to worry about both."
Bloomberg stressed that the investigation into the early-morning shooting of 23-year-old Sean Bell and his two friends outside of a Jamaica strip club is ongoing and that it's still too early to draw any definitive conclusions.
Bell was killed in a hail of bullets fired by plain clothes police officers while he was in his car leaving his bachelor party the morning of his wedding. Suspecting that one of the men in the car had a gun, police fired 50 rounds into Bell's vehicle. Bell and two passengers, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were later found to be unarmed. Police are investigating if a fourth person fled.
"It is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired, but that's up for the investigation to find out," said the mayor at a press conference following the meeting.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the confrontation stemmed from an undercover operation by seven officers investigating the club. The five police officers who fired shots have been placed on administrative duty and have turned in their weapons. Two officers did not fire their weapons during the incident.
Kelly said that, according to witness accounts, police opened fire after Bell's car struck an undercover officer and an unmarked police minivan.
Bloomberg and Kelly both indicated that NYPD policy prohibits shooting at moving vehicles, "unless deadly force is being used against the police officers or another person present, by means other than a moving vehicle."
The commissioner said that it was the first time any of the officers, all of whom carried 9 mm handguns, had been involved in a shooting.
The mayor was steadfast in his support of Kelly, despite calls by some leaders for the commissioner's resignation.
"I have complete confidence in our police commissioner. He will be the police commissioner for the rest of my term," he said. "I think he is the best police commissioner that this city has ever had, and I think he has done a masterful job in training and diversifying our police department."
Bloomberg urged Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to proceed with his investigation into the matter as quickly as possible. Brown met with his investigators to review evidence Monday with the aim of getting the case before a grand jury sometime within the next week.
The D.A. is also planning on meeting with the victim's family and Reverend Sharpton.
Overnight, Bell's fiancŽe Nicole Paultre lit a candle and prayed at a vigil in his honor. Friends say she was so grief-stricken she could barely stand. She later expressed anger at the police in an interview on Power 105's morning show.
"First I would start by not referring to them as officers, they are murderers. They are murderers. They are not officers," said Paultre. "No one gives anybody the right to kill somebody, to take someone's life. They don't know what they've done. What pain they've caused to this family. To my kids."
Bell leaves behind two young children.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Queens Sunday to protest Bell's shooting.
Hundreds gathered for a vigil and rally outside the hospital where Bell's two friends are still recovering from their gunshot wounds. Guzman remains hospitalized in critical condition. Benefield is listed as stable.
They called for an immediate investigation into Saturday's incident, with some community leaders calling for the officers involved to be suspended and for the black community to get involved.
"I am fed up. I am not asking my people to do anything passive anymore," said Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron. "We're going to sit here and we're going to go in there. We're going to pray. We're going to march. We're going to do all of that stuff and then we're going to sit down. And then if they don't respond to none of that, then don't ask us to ask our people to be peaceful while they are being murdered. We are not the only ones that can bleed."
"This young man was doing the right thing. He was going to marry the mother of his children. Now she has to raise those children by herself," said Reverend Al Sharpton. "But she has a community that will stand with her and stand with these children and stand with the parents."
The group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement is calling for immediate changes in the NYPD and their community relations.
"Our organization has taken a vote of no confidence for Commissioner Kelly, who has put his head in the sand regarding issues of ever growing police brutality and misconduct in New York," said Noel Leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement.
The group also wants the policies of the Organized Crime Control Bureau to be reviewed.
For more on the story, tune in to NY1's "Inside City Hall" tonight. Police commissioner Ray Kelly, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Incoming State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith and City Councilman Charles Barron are the guests and will discuss the case.
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