The grand jury investigating the police shooting of Sean Bell resumed deliberations Thursday afternoon after hearing testimony from a surprise witness who came forward at the 11th hour.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, the jury concluded deliberating for the day around 8 p.m. Thursday. They are scheduled to reconvene Friday morning.
Grand jurors broke from their deliberations in Kew Gardens to hear testimony Thursday morning from a man who reportedly witnessed the shooting. According to detectives union chief Michael Palladino, the witness is a Spanish-speaking janitor who works nights at a building near the club where Bell was celebrating his bachelor party.
Palladino says the janitor told his story to detectives at the 115th precinct Wednesday afternoon. The man, who Palladino says had previously been interviewed by police without disclosing what he witnessed, now says he saw a black man fleeing the scene and that the man fired one or possibly two shots at police before running into a building.
Palladino says the man then heard officers shouting, Îpolice, police.’
The five officers who fired a total of 50 shots at Bell and his two friends took the stand last week. They have said that they initially followed Bell and his friends because they thought someone in their party had a gun. However, no gun was found at the scene, and none of the officers ever mentioned being fired at.
Authorities have said that there was no ballistic evidence at the scene indicating that any gun was fired other than the weapons of the five officers.
The grand jury will eventually vote on whether or not the five officers involved in the shooting should be indicted.
Bell, 23, was killed outside Club Kalua in Jamaica in the early-morning hours of November 25 when the undercover officers fired into his car after it struck an unmarked police van. He was to have been married later that day.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, who has been a vocal critic of the handling of the Bell case from the beginning, denounced the decision to let the new witness testify before the jury.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, Sharpton called the timing of the testimony unusual and suspicious, and said it "stinks to high heaven."
Appearing alongside Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s fiancŽe, and Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, the two men injured in the shooting, Sharpton again called on the governor and the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to the case and to investigate the possibility of perjury charges against the new witness.
Sharpton questioned the witness' motives, suggesting that a witness who allegedly withheld key evidence can hardly be trusted to be telling the truth.
He also questioned why Palladino knew so much about the man’s story on Wednesday before the witness had testified, and why the detectives had access to him before prosecutors.
All of this, Sharpton says, taints the grand jury and leads him to question the entire process.
"So if I called the D.A. right now and I said, 'I got a guy in Far Rockaway that heard the cops say Let's go get 'em
,' would they put him in front of this grand jury?" asked Sharpton. "Then who decides what is credible, reckless or not?"
Speaking on Sharpton's radio show Thursday, Guzman and Benefield said that if there is a trial, they may choose not to participate if they feel the grand jury process was tainted.
Three of Bell's friends, who were also at the bachelor party the night of the shooting and who also testified before the grand jury, said they were never asked if they saw a gunman on the street.
Sharpton also said that now that the witness has testified, all of the other witnesses should be recalled to testify whether or not they saw this fourth man or heard any gunshots, saying that the new witness' testimony shouldn't be the last thing grand jurors hear before continuing their deliberations.
Yet among all the charged and countercharges, a new poll shows that New Yorkers think the NYPD is living up to its title as New York's finest.
Quinnipiac University found that 60 percent of New Yorkers think the NYPD is doing a good job, up from 53 percent in January, in the wake of the Bell shooting.
Fifty percent say they like the way Bloomberg is handling the shooting, but 57 percent think charges should be brought against the officers involved.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's marks are also up to 56 percent, though he's still far from his all-time high of 70 percent.
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,261 registered city voters from March 6th through the 12th. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.