An undercover police officer who touched off the fatal shooting of another unarmed Black man outside a gentleman’s club after his bachelor party should be fired, according to a recommendation made Wednesday by the police department official in charge of departmental discipline.
Detective Gescard Isnora was wrong to drop his cover by clipping his shield to his jacket, pull out his weapon and fire 11 shots inside the car where Sean Bell and his friends sat, according to the recommendation to police Commissioner Raymond Kelly made by Martin Karopkin after a departmental trial. Bell was killed, and his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield were seriously wounded.
Officer Michael Carey, who fired three times, was found to have acted properly and should not be disciplined, Karopkin said.
Isnora’s attorney has an opportunity to review the recommendation and submit a response, after which Kelly will make the final determination on whether or not Isnora will lose his New York Police Department job. Carey could still be penalized. Department officials said he should be docked 30 vacation days for his role in the shooting.
The disciplinary proceeding follows a 2008 non-jury trial at which Isnora and two other officers were acquitted of criminal charges. Carey was never charged criminally.
Isnora had been assigned to the Queens club where the three friends were partying before Bell’s wedding. Isnora said he believed Guzman had a gun because he heard him say “Get my gun” outside the club. He said he thought the men were going to their car to get a weapon and commit a drive-by shooting to get even with another group of men with whom they had been arguing moments earlier outside.
No weapon was found in Bell’s car.
Bell was black; the officers involved in the shooting were black, white and Hispanic. The shooting reopened questions of race and whether black men are still unfairly targeted by police, but critics eventually came to focus more on the use of deadly force.
Attorneys for Carey and Isnora said the officers were doing their jobs in a stressful environment and shouldn’t be blamed for a night gone awry, especially because Bell hit Isnora with the car before pulling out and hitting a police van.
Isnora’s lawyer had no comment on the recommendation Wednesday. The head of the Detectives Endowment Association, Mike Palladino, said he disagreed with the recommendation but wouldn’t comment further until after the penalty phase to the process.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has worked as an advocate for Bell along with Bell’s fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, organizing marches and discussions around the shooting, said Wednesday he would put pressure on Kelly to do “what’s right.”
“His decision on Isnora vindicates the position of those of us who have worked to vindicate Sean Bell and his family,” Sharpton said in statement. “It also mandates that the police commissioner immediately fires Detective Isnora and not give retirement benefits to the others who were involved.”