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Time for Healing

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The city Law Department announced last week it would pay out slightly more than $7 million to settle the lawsuits surrounding the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell and the wounding his two friends. As part of the settlement, the city did not have to admit any wrongdoing on the part of the police officers who fired 50 rounds at Bell and his companions.

Of this award, $3.25 million will go Bell’s estate, which is administered by his fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell. The money will be used to care for the two children Nicole and Sean had together. Although she called the award “reasonable,” Nicole noted the two girls will grow up without a father.

On the day the settlement was announced, Paultre-Bell showed the same stoic grace she demonstrated in the days following the tragic shooting of her fiance. The two were to have gotten married that same day. Bell and his friends were holding a bachelor’s party at the Kalua Cabaret strip club in Jamaica.

Joseph Guzman, who was hospitalized for weeks following the shooting, was awarded $3 million and Trent Benefield was given $900,000.

The police said they believed one of the men had a gun, but no gun was ever found. The police involved in the shooting have been cleared of all criminal charges. The Kalua Cabaret had a bad reputation with police and on the night of the shooting two undercover officers were inside looking for people selling guns and drugs.

Speaking for the Law Department, Michael Cardozo said, “The city regrets the loss of life in this tragic case, and we share our deepest condolences with the Bell family.”

Attorney Sanford Rubenstein called the settlement “fair and reasonable.” He called on Albany to enact reforms that will prevent similar shootings.

Fortunately, shootings like this are rare. We do not trust the inept state Legislature to enact any bills that will improve law enforcement in the city.

Our hope is this settlement will help the community to heal. The shooting greatly damaged the already-strained relationship between the people of southeast Queens and the police officers who risk their lives to protect them. Now that the lawsuits have been resolved, the healing can begin.

Updated 6:00 pm, October 10, 2011
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