2007-03-21 / Front Page

Grand Jury Indicts 3 Cops

District Attorney Richard A. Brown (c.) with the Sean Bell Grand Jury Investigative Team (l. to r.): Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney for Legal Affairs John Castellano, Assistant District Attorney Kristin Fraser, Deputy Appeals Bureau Chief Johnnette Traill, Paralegal Veronica Jiminez, Assistant District Attorney Travis Hunter, Executive Assistant District Attorney for Major Crimes Charles Testagrossa, Homicide Investigations Bureau Chief Peter Reese, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Cort-Hourie, Paralegal Janine Abel, Detective Sergeant Frank Torres, Detective Bernard Porter and Executive Assistant District Attorney for Legal Affairs Gary Fidel. District Attorney Richard A. Brown (c.) with the Sean Bell Grand Jury Investigative Team (l. to r.): Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney for Legal Affairs John Castellano, Assistant District Attorney Kristin Fraser, Deputy Appeals Bureau Chief Johnnette Traill, Paralegal Veronica Jiminez, Assistant District Attorney Travis Hunter, Executive Assistant District Attorney for Major Crimes Charles Testagrossa, Homicide Investigations Bureau Chief Peter Reese, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Cort-Hourie, Paralegal Janine Abel, Detective Sergeant Frank Torres, Detective Bernard Porter and Executive Assistant District Attorney for Legal Affairs Gary Fidel. Prosecutors and investigators in the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown interviewed more than 100 witnesses, reviewed over 500 separate exhibits, and then over a period of some 22 days of testimony presented the evidence resulting from the investigation to a Grand Jury.

The police officers who are alleged to have fired their weapons, resulting in the death of 23- year-old Sean Bell and the wounding of his two companions, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield on Nov. 25, 2006, were, as required by law, given the opportunity to testify and to produce witnesses on their behalf. The Grand Jury was instructed as to applicable procedural and substantive law and last Friday, March 16. 2007, concluded three days of deliberations and handed up an eight-count indictment charging two police officers, Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora, with various counts of manslaughter in the first and second degree, assault in the first and second degree and reckless endangerment in the second degree. A third officer, Marc Cooper, has been charged with two counts of reckless endangerment in the second degree; one of his shots went through the window of an occupied AirTrain station nearby. The two remaining officers, Michael Carey, who allegedly fired three shots, and Paul Headley, who allegedly fired once, have not been charged.

Detectives Oliver and Isnora face sentences of up to 25 years in prison in the event of their conviction. Detective Cooper faces up to one year in prison, if convicted.

Brown unsealed the indictment on Monday morning, March 19, and the three officers pleaded not guilty to all charges at their arraignment in Queens Criminal Court before Judge Randall Eng. Eng set bail at $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash for Isnora and Oliver. The cash amount was posed by the Detectives Endowment Association. Cooper was released without bail.

The officers were conducting an undercover operation at the Kalua Cabaret, a strip club in Jamaica, on November 24 and into the early morning hours of November 25. Bell, Guzman and Benefield had come to the club to celebrate Bell's bachelor party. He was to marry Nicole Paultry, the mother of his two children, later in the day on November 25.

Both Brown and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said they opposed a change of venue for the case. "I don't believe you could find a jury that would be more impartial, thorough or fair than you'd find here in Queens County," Brown said. Sharpton called any request for a change of venue "not only wrong, but insulting the intelligence of the public and the intelligence of the court". He added that his organization would not participate in or cooperate with a trial held outside Queens.

Photos DCPI Indicted cops top to bottom: Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper Photos DCPI Indicted cops top to bottom: Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper The first count of the indictment charges Oliver (who is alleged to have fired his weapon 31 times) and Isnora (who is alleged to have fired his weapon 11 times) with the crime of manslaughter in the first degree (a Class B violent felony), in that, acting in concert, each aiding the other, with intent to cause serious physical injury to Joseph Guzman, caused the death of Sean Bell by shooting him with a loaded pistol.

The second count of the indictment charges Oliver and Isnora with the crime of manslaughter in the second degree (a Class C felony) in that, acting in concert, each aiding the other, recklessly caused the death of Sean Bell by shooting him with a loaded pistol.

The third count of the indictment charges Detectives Oliver and Isnora with the crime of assault in the first degree (a Class B violent felony) in that, acting in concert, each aiding the other, with intent to cause serious physical injury to Joseph Guzman, caused such injury to Joseph Guzman by means of a deadly weapon.

The fourth count of the indictment charges Detective Oliver with the crime of assault in the first degree (a Class B violent felony) in that with intent to cause serious physical injury to Trent Benefield, caused such injury to Trent Benefield by means of a deadly weapon.

The fifth count of the indictment charges Detective Isnora with the crime of assault in the second degree (a Class D violent felony) in that he recklessly caused serious physical injury to Trent Benefield by means of a deadly weapon.

The sixth count of the indictment charges Detectives Oliver and Isnora, as well as Detective Marc Cooper (who is alleged to have fired his weapon four times) with the crime of reckless endangerment in the second degree (a Class A misdemeanor) in that, they, acting in concert, each aiding the others, recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person by discharging pistols multiple times on Liverpool Street, the site of the Kalua cabaret, while other persons were present on said street.

The seventh count of the indictment charges Detective Cooper with the crime of reckless endangerment in the second degree (a Class A misdemeanor) in that he recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person by discharging a pistol, thereby causing a bullet to pass through a window of an occupied AirTrain station.

The eighth count of the indictment charges Detective Oliver with the crime of reckless endangerment in the second degree (a Class A misdemeanor) in that he recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person by discharging a pistol multiple times, thereby causing a bullet to pass through the window of an occupied residence.

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