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Bell civil suit waits for NYPD

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A Brooklyn federal court judge has given the NYPD a timetable for its own internal investigation into Sean Bell’s death before he hears the civil case filed by the bridegroom’s fiancée and friends.

Federal Judge Sterling Johnson issued a two-month stay on the pending wrongful death case March 10 and rejected the city’s request to postpone it six more months. The city Police Department is currently undertaking a departmental investigation into the officers involved in the Nov. 25, 2006, incident in which the 23-year-old Richmond Hill native was shot in a hail of 50 bullets along with Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.

Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney representing Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, Guzman and Benefield in the case, said the internal procedures could affect whether or not the NYPD will legally represent the five officers named in the wrongful death suit.

“The city wanted the time so they can consider whether it will represent all of them,” he said.

The case is expected to come back to Johnson May 6, when Rubenstein said he is planning to question the officers under oath for the first time.

“At that time, we report to [Johnson] and the magistrate and we expect that at that point the case will begin,” he said.

The Detectives Endowment Association did not return phone calls for comment.

Bell and his friends were partying at the Kalua Cabaret, a Jamaica strip club that was under investigation for suspected drug and prostitution rings. Bell, Guzman and Benefield were observed by an undercover officer getting into an argument with another patron outside the club and the officer thought the Rockaway resident had a gun.

When the undercover team approached Bell’s sedan in their unmarked minivan, Bell rammed his car into the police, which prompted five of them to open fire.

Bell was killed while Guzman and Benefield were seriously injured and arrested. It was later determined that none of the three were armed.

Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora were charged with manslaughter, while their partner Marc Cooper was charged with reckless endangerment. They were exonerated in a bench trial two years ago.

The three detectives, along with their two partners who were not charged in the case, Officers Paul Headley and Mike Carey, have been named in the suit that was filed in July 2007.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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