Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sean Bell's Killers Can Still Face Justice

While Judge Arthur T. Cooperman's verdict of not guilty on all charges last week for Detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora, and Marc Cooper, the feds seem to be slightly interested in the case. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, met with Bell's family and his two friends injured the melee, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, promising a close look at the case. A federal case being taken up after an acquittal in a state case would not be unprecedented, as Francis X. Livoti - a former NYPD officer - was acquitted of choking a Bronx man, Anthony Baez, to death by a state court, but was later convicted of violating Baez's civil rights by a federal court. Livoti was found to have killed Baez, lied to cover it up, and solicited the help of fellow officers to lie and help cover up the case. He was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in a federal pen. Even before the federal case, Livoti was fired from the force for using the illegal chokehold on Baez, who died in and incident apparently started when a football being used in a family game hit a police cruiser. What is important to note with Livoti's case is that the state judge who acquitted him used similar language as Judge Cooperman. While Livoti's judge said that Livoti was not innocent, the prosecution merely failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Judge Cooperman, in his decision, pointed out that things like carelessness and incompetence were not to be decided in his court, leaving open the door for "other forums" (i.e. the feds).

What seems to be certain is that none of the six detectives involved in Sean Bell's killing that night (Detectives Oliver, Isnora, Cooper, and Officer Michael Carey, Detective Paul Headley, and the commanding officer that night Lieutenant Gary Napoli (the only officer not to shoot, which is saying something seeing he was the commanding officer)) will never carry a gun and a badge for the NYPD again (thankfully). The Times quotes officials as saying that none of them can reasonably expect to do so. This is not unprecedented, however, as we saw with Livoti earlier. Taking a look at another case shows the same outcomes. The four officers involved in the Amadou Diallo case no longer carry guns for the NYPD - three left and one (Kenneth Boss) is not allowed a firearm, though he is fighting to get one back. So even if Ray Kelly allows the trigger-happy cops to stay on the force, it would most likely be in a severely limited capacity with no firearms involved, which is a relief for unarmed black men across the city.

As far as the feds picking up the case, it's certainly possible. If Livoti's case in the death of Anthony Baez is any indication, the feds have certainly set precedents to bring justice for victims of police killings. However, it is also important to note that Amadou Diallo's murderers (which I view as a much more egregious case) never faced a federal trial. That's why I think this could go either way. While I will be upset if the feds do not bring charges, I cannot say that I will be entirely surprised. One of the main things I am looking towards, however, is Judge Cooperman's language referring to the "recklessness and carelessness" of the officers, which could result in civil rights charges (plus it is similar to language used by the acquitting judge in Livoti's case). In any event, it is slightly (very slightly) comforting that these men will never carry guns under the charge of the NYPD and hopefully will not serve the NYPD in any capacity in the future. Peace.

Photos - Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora, Marc Cooper (l-r) (, Sean Bell (, A good question (


  1. Dear Friends,

    An earnest and respectful request that the US Attorney General commence a federal probe of the shooting death of Sean Bell, and the subsequent astonishing and distressing acquittal of the NYPD officers responsible for Sean Bell's untimely and violent death.

    Please go to the online petition site below:

    Robert Lewis Foley, Jr.

    Please unite your voice with ours and share this with everyone you know who is concerned about justice, human rights and the sanctity of human life.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out. For those who want a direct link to the site, click here. Peace.