After more than two years of delay, the civil case filed by Sean Bell’s fiancée and the two friends shot alongside him against the NYPD ended Tuesday evening with the city paying out slightly more than $7 million in settlements.
Bell’s estate, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield were all awarded monetary resolutions, the city Law Department said. As part of the settlement, the NYPD did not have to admit to any wrongdoing in the Nov. 25, 2006 incident during which officers fired 50 shots. Bell died on his wedding day and his two friends were seriously injured.
“The Sean Bell shooting highlighted the complexities our dedicated officers must face each day,” Michael Cardozo, the attorney for the city Law Department, said in a statement. “The city regrets the loss of life in this tragic case, and we share our deepest condolences with the Bell family. The city is also settling claims with Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield. We hope that all parties can find some measure of closure by this settlement.”
Sean Bell’s estate, which is administered by his fiancée Nicole Paultre-Bell, was awarded $3.25 million; Guzman, who was hospitalized for weeks following the shooting, was awarded $3 million; and Benefield was given $900,000. Their attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, said that aside from the money they are pushing the state to enact reforms for New York’s law enforcement to prevent similar shootings.
“The settlement is fair and reasonable and what is important is that they pass the Bell package in Albany,” he said.
Bell, 23, and his friends were celebrating the bridegroom’s bachelor’s party at the Kalua Cabaret strip club in Jamaica. The now-defunct club was being investigated by undercover police for suspected drug and prostitution operations.
The Rockaway resident and his entourage got into a heated argument with a man and were observed by one of the officers, who claimed he heard someone say they were getting a gun. The officer called for backup and trailed Bell, Guzman and Benefield to the bridegroom’s car at the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue.
When an unmarked police minivan arrived in front of the car, Bell rammed the van, prompting five of the undercover officers to fire the 50 shots. No weapon was ever found.
Three of the undercover detectives were indicted on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges, but they were all acquitted in a bench trial in 2007.
Although filed in July 2007, the civil suit was put on hold for two years after the criminal trial since there was a possibility federal civil rights charges would be filed against the officers, but no further action was taken at the federal level.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2010 Community News Group
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