Bell’s widow back to school as feds weigh civil rights case

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As Sean Bell’s family waits to see if the police officers responsible for his death will be tried on federal charges, his fiancÉe has returned to school to make a difference in light of her loss.

Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney who represents Nicole Paultre−Bell, told TimesLedger Newspapers that his client and Bell’s parents had scheduled a meeting with federal prosecutors this week to discuss whether or not they would charge the five officers who shot the Rockaway resident 50 times with civil rights violations.

In the meantime, Paultre−Bell, who began her first semester at York College this fall, said she is studying pre−law because she wanted to do her part for justice.

“Since I lost Sean, I knew there has to be change,“ the 24−year−old mother of two said at the Jamaica campus after finishing a day of classes.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, declined to comment about the case or the meeting.

Rubenstein said he did not know the exact day the meeting was scheduled between the federal prosecutors and the Bell family.

Paultre−Bell said she has been enjoying her time at York, which is the first time she has attended college, and harbors no ill will toward the Police Department as a whole. She praised the citywide police program called Operation Impact, which was undertaken at the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, that placed rookie officers on the streets to interact with residents.

“It think that’s great. They should do more of that,” she said.

Paultre−Bell said an all night vigil has been planned on Nov. 24 outside the strip club where her fiance was shot.

Bell, 23, and his friends, Joseph Guzman, 32, and Trent Benefield, 24, were shot by police outside the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006. The officers, who were investigating suspected drug and prostitution operations at the strip joint, thought one of the three had a gun, but no weapon was found.

Bell, who was set to walk down the aisle with Paultre−Bell later that day, was killed while Guzman and Benefield were seriously wounded.

Detective Gescard Isnora, who fired first and shot 11 times and Detective Michael Oliver, who shot 31 times and reloaded ,were indicted in March 2007 on manslaughter charges, while Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four bullets, was charged with reckless endangerment. Two other officers, Officer Michael Carey and Paul Headley, were not charged with firing the remaining shots.

The three detectives were acquitted in April by a Queens Supreme Court judge, but Isnora, Cooper, Carey and Oliver were hit with NYPD departmental charges in May. After their acquittal in Queens Supreme Court, Bell’s family and friends urged various congressional leaders, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman U. S. Rep. John Conyers (D−Mich.), to take the case to the federal level.

All five officers have also been named in a civil negligence lawsuit filed by Paultre−Bell, Benefield and Guzman, but that case is pending other court matters, according to Rubenstein.

“Nothing will happen in the civil suit until the federal matter is done,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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