Authorities are reviewing surveillance video from the night 23-year-old Sean Bell was gunned down by police in Queens, NY1 has learned.
Sources say the video shows people entering and exiting the nightclub Bell was leaving when police riddled his car with bullets, killing Bell and seriously wounding two others. The police involved reportedly say they fired in self-defense after Bell's car hit one officer and rammed their undercover vehicle.
Sources say police are using the video to locate more witnesses. The tape reportedly does not show the shooting itself.
At least one person was questioned by police Tuesday. NY1 has learned that person witnessed parts of the event and saw someone running down the street. However sources say investigators do not believe there was a fourth passenger in Bell’s car.
A police source says the witness is China Flores, who told the Daily News that the undercover officer never identified himself before shooting began. It's an account the union representing the detective says is untrue.
"He had his shield displayed," said Michael Palladino of the Detectives Endowment Association. "He gave orders to the driver of the vehicle. He was also armed with the fact that there may have been a weapon in the vehicle."
No gun was found in the victim's car, but Paladino continues to maintain that the officers thought they were in mortal danger.
"It's also my understanding that there was a fourth individual in the vehicle, somehow some way did escape and flee the scene and in all likelihood took that firearm with him," said Palladino.
But that's something investigators have not confirmed. And one police source says they don't believe there was a fourth man there.
Police Commissioner Kelly says Bell was involved in an argument outside the Kalua Cabaret and one of his friends made a reference to a gun, prompting an undercover officer to follow them to their car.
Kelly says as the officer walked toward the front of the car, they drove forward, hitting the officer and an undercover police vehicle. The officer who followed the group was apparently the first to open fire after seeing one of the men reach for his waistband.
Witnesses, however, give a different story in which the police officers approached the vehicle with weapons drawn and said nothing to the driver until he put the car in motion towards the officer. The police were at the club to investigate an alleged drug and prostitution ring at the club.
Law enforcement sources say one of the white officers, identified as Detective Mike Oliver, fired 31 of the 50 shots shots. The sources also say Officer Mike Carey fired three times. A third officer, Lieutenant Gary Napoli, reportedly ducked for cover under a dashboard when the shooting started. There is no word on who fired the remaining shots.
The Queens District Attorney Richard Brown is investigating the case and will present his findings to a grand jury. Right now the five officers involved have turned in their weapons and are on administrative duty.
The NYPD's investigation is limited because the investigators won't interview any officers who fired their guns until after the DA's office finishes its investigation.
That's standard protocol in cases where criminal charges are being investigated. So the officers may be interviewed first in front of a Grand Jury, which the Queens District Attorney says he will convene as soon as possible. Union officials say all those involved in the shooting are willing to testify.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a news conference Tuesday to update the press after meeting with Bell's family and again with community leaders in Southeast Queens, in an effort to ease tensions following the shooting.
"I am committed to making sure that justice is served, that the public is protected, that the Police Department treats everybody fairly. We have the best police commissioner, to my knowledge, this city has ever had," said Bloomberg.
"We have a significant gap in what we know," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "We need this investigation to move forward quickly."
The mayor stood by comments made Monday, saying the number of shots fired by police seemed excessive.
"I am a civilian; I am not a professional law enforcement officer. It seemed to me the number of shots fired, as I said, was excessive," he said. "I wasn't there, maybe it will turn out to be not excessive."
He was criticized by police officials for pre-judging the case, but he maintained that he was expressing his personal opinion, and he will not draw any conclusions until all the facts are in and the city conducts a thorough and fair investigation. Mindful of the outrage and protests after the deadly police shooting of Amadou Diallo nearly eight years ago, Bloomberg is trying to make sure that does not happen again.
"This morning's dialogue was open, honest and blunt, which is the way it should be," said Bloomberg.
The mayor also reinforced that he thinks race had nothing to do with the shooting.
Earlier Tuesday, the mayor met with Bell's family, including his fiancŽe, at a church in Queens for about an hour. He says although he's unable to bring their loved one back or fully understand their loss, his heart and prayers go out to them.
"I don't think that any parent can understand what it would be like to lose a child until it happens, and I just pray that for most of us parents that we never find out," he said.
NY1 has learned that Bell's funeral will take place Friday evening at 7 p.m. at Community Church of Christ on 108th Avenue in Jamaica, the same church where he was to be married on Saturday. The church's pastor Bishop Williams was going to preside over the wedding, but will now lead the funeral.
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