NEW YORK (NNPA) - The federal government has decided that it will not prosecute the police officers involved in the 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell. The news comes from the Department of Justice, which said that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the officers acted willfully during the shooting.
At a Feb. 16 press conference at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, Bell's fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, Joe Guzman and Trent Benefield expressed their outrage over the decision.
"Of course, this is disappointing," Paultre-Bell said. "But our fight continues. Myself and my family are going to do everything possible. We are still going to seek justice."
Paultre-Bell added that she was not surprised about the outcome, but was hopeful that with the new administration in Washington, there would be some kind of change.
She said, "There's a history of Black men gunned down by White police officers, and something has to be done. This is a national problem. This is not the first time we've been let down. It was almost like a replay of what happened earlier. Everybody deserves justice."
NYPD officers shot Bell in Queens on the night before his wedding in November 2006 in a barrage of 50 bullets. Bell was unarmed. Officers Marc Cooper, Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver stood trial and were acquitted in April 2008.
The officers involved in the shooting remain on modified duty.
In July 2007, attorneys filed a civil lawsuit against the officers on behalf of Paultre-Bell.
Guzman was in the car on the night Bell was shot by the NYPD and still walks with a limp, needing the aid of a cane. He said that evidence proves the officers should be prosecuted.
"I seen it," he said. "I was there. How? How can you sit here and tell us this? Fifty shots?"
Bell family attorney Michael Hardy said that the decisions raise questions about the country's justice system and that the struggle would not stop.
"This, of course, continues to be a trying a process," he said. "The question [is] over how does this happen and there [is] no accountability on behalf of these officers," he said. "This fight for justice for these families continues to make sure that the American system of justice does, in fact, provide equal protection."
Upon the news of the officers' acquittal in 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced they would conduct an independent review of the facts surrounding Bell's death.
The Department of Justice said there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against the NYPD officers. Officials from the Civil Rights Division met with the Bell family, along with Benefield and Guzman, to inform them of the descision.
The department said in a statement that, "A team of experienced civil rights prosecutors and agents reviewed all of the materials and evidence generated and provided by the Queens County district attorney's office and the NYPD, including witness statements, crime scene evidence, ballistics reports, reconstruction analyses, medical reports, state grand jury proceedings and the state trial record."
The Department of Justice cited that neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
While Rev. Sharpton was not at the press conference due to his attendance at a religious conference in Florida, he did release a statement about the decision, saying that he spoke with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
"I expressed to him my extreme disappointment in the decision and [that] our legal advisors saw the evidence and federal jurisdiction differently," Sharpton said. "We agreed, however, that the family and community must continue to bring a new day in how we deal with police matters and how both community residents and police are protected equally under the law."
Sharpton added that even though two of the three officers involved in the shooting are Black, he plans to continue his pursuit for justice, calling 50 shots fired at unarmed men who were not committing a crime "intolerable."
Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron said in a statement that he received a phone call from the Justice Department in response to a letter he wrote requesting an investigation in the Sean Bell shooting. He called the decision "outrageous" and a "gross miscarriage of justice."
"What is the sense of having a Black president and a Black United States attorney general if they are not going to protect the lives of innocent Black citizens?" he questioned. "Black citizens are disproportionately killed by law enforcement officers who we pay to protect us. They are also sending a signal to Blacks living in inner cities, saying to the people, 'We are not going to protect you. You must find the means to protect yourselves.'"