A grand jury in Queens weighing evidence in the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell heard yesterday from the last of the five police officers involved in the case, a detective who fired 31 of the 50 shots at Mr. Bell’s car.
The actions of the detective, Michael Oliver, who emptied his 9-millimeter Sig Sauer pistol, reloaded and emptied it again during the barrage of police gunfire, have been among the focal points of the investigation into the shooting, which took place outside the Club Kalua strip club in Queens on Nov. 25, hours before Mr. Bell was to be married.
In the moments after the shooting, Detective Oliver, 35, told a supervisor at the scene that he was unsure whether he had even fired at all, according to the Police Department’s preliminary report. The detective’s lawyer, James J. Culleton, said yesterday that it could take as little as 10 seconds for an officer using a gun like his client’s to fire 31 shots.
Detective Oliver testified for about two and a half hours before the grand jurors yesterday, Mr. Culleton said. The detective did not respond to reporters’ questions as he left at 2 p.m.
Earlier, as Detective Oliver was escorted to the office building where the grand jury is seated, at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road, the leader of the detectives’ union, Michael J. Palladino, paused at a bank of microphones and defended the detective, who since he joined the department in February 1994 has more than 600 arrests to his credit, including multiple arrests in crimes involving guns.
“This detective has been characterized as a cowboy, and that’s not true and it is unfair,” said Mr. Palladino, who said that Detective Oliver, like his colleagues, was testifying without immunity. “This detective is an impeccable officer, has an unblemished record.”
Detective Oliver’s appearance yesterday signals that the grand jury’s work is winding down. It has heard this week from each of the five officers, in the order of the number of rounds they fired: Detective Paul Headley, 35, who fired one shot, and Officer Michael Carey, 26, who fired three, testified on Monday; Detective Marc Cooper, 39, who fired four shots, and Detective Gescard F. Isnora, 28, who fired 11, testified on Wednesday.
Mr. Culleton, Detective Oliver’s lawyer, said yesterday that the grand jurors had agreed with the officers’ request that they listen to an expert witness in firearms, tactics and training. That witness testified for two and a half hours yesterday afternoon, Mr. Palladino and lawyers said. A decision on whether any of the five officers who opened fire on Mr. Bell’s car will face criminal charges could come as early as next week, according to lawyers involved in the case.
Mr. Bell, 23, and his friends were celebrating at his bachelor party when the shooting occurred. Two of his friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, who were wounded, testified before the grand jury last week.
Sanford A. Rubenstein, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Benefield and Mr. Guzman, as well as Mr. Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, 22, said his clients were awaiting a conclusion. He said that deliberations, once commenced, “might take some time,” since five police officers were involved.
“All the victims have testified before the grand jury, and they want justice,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “What justice means is that if a police officer committed a criminal act, that the police officer be held accountable, criminally.”
Lawyers for the officers have said that the shooting tore at their clients emotionally. Before Nov. 25, none of them had ever fired a round in the line of duty. Mr. Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, has repeatedly said that the officers’ actions were not criminal.
“We ain’t mean to kill nobody, and it is just a dead Nigga, so can we go home now like nothin’ happened, Y’all? No harm, no foul, right?”
Nothin’ criminal? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Unarmed Negro, Shot Dead. Unarmed Negroes, shot? Unarmed Negroes charged with no crimes, but still shot up-Hmm. Yeah, why don’t y’all just go home. Chill. Relax. Take two racial amnesia pills and call us in the morning.