NYC Mayor Visits Dead Groom's Family

Mayor Michael Bloomberg met Tuesday with the family of the man who was killed by a barrage of police gunfire, the second straight day that he reached out to a community angry over the weekend shootings outside a strip club.

Bloomberg went to the family's Queens church and met with the fiancee and father of the victim, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. He is later scheduled to meet with community leaders in Queens.

The mayor held a similar meeting Monday at City Hall in which he declared that officers appeared to use "excessive force" when 23-year-old Sean Bell was killed hours before his wedding.

"I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired, but that's up to the investigation to find out what really happened," Bloomberg said Monday at a news conference after Monday's meeting.

Two of the groom's friends were wounded in the shooting Saturday following a bachelor party at the strip club. Suspecting that one of the men had a gun, the officers fired 50 rounds into the men's vehicle. The three were unarmed.

Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre, told hip-hop radio station Power 105.1 on Monday that the people who shot him shouldn't be called officers. "They were murderers, murderers," she said. "They were not officers. No one gives anyone the right to kill somebody."

Sharpton called Monday's meeting a "very candid" exchange. He said the message to Bloomberg was: "This city must show moral outrage that 50 shots were fired on three unarmed men." Some have also questioned whether the shooting was racially motivated — the victims were all black men and the five officers who fired their guns included two blacks, two whites and one Hispanic.

Of the victims, Bloomberg said: "There is no evidence that they were doing anything wrong," referring to everything leading up to the moment they struck an officer with their car.

For a mayor to question the actions of the officers and defend the shooting victims while reaching out immediately to the grieving community — it sets a decidedly different tone than in the past. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was hounded for what some viewed as a slow response to the killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times in the Bronx by four white officers. The shooters were later acquitted of criminal charges.

The gunfire in the current case stemmed from an undercover operation inside the Kalua Cabaret, where seven officers in plain clothes were investigating alleged prostitution and drug use.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the groom was involved in an argument outside the club after 4 a.m., and one of his friends made a reference to a gun. An undercover officer walked closely behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, they drove forward — striking him and an undercover police minivan, Kelly said.

The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said. The New York Post identified the officer as Detective Mike Oliver.

Oliver told investigators he was unaware of how many shots he fired immediately after the incident. Oliver said after he emptied his first clip, he thought the gun was jammed. He said he quickly reloaded and emptied the second clip, the Post reported, adding that Oliver had never before fired his weapon in the line of duty.

Bloomberg also said police appeared to have violated the policy stating that officers cannot shoot at a vehicle being used as a weapon if no other deadly force is involved.

Bloomberg was steadfast, however, in his support for Kelly, who has been denounced by some activists since the shooting.

The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave and had their guns removed while the investigation goes on.

Some people calling themselves witnesses have come forward in recent days to dispute the police department's version of events. One woman, Trini Wright, told the Daily News the police minivan crashed into the men's car, which she said was not moving. She said she was leaving the strip club with the men.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Monday that his office was investigating the incident and the results would be presented to a grand jury. He said he had spoken with the mayor and police commissioner since the shooting and had met with Sharpton and Bell's parents and fiancee.

"I will be guided only by the law and the facts," Brown said in a statement. "I will reach no conclusions until the investigation is complete. There will be no rush to judgment."

Lawyers representing four of the five shooting officers have contacted prosecutors and "expressed a willingness to cooperate with the investigation and the grand jury," a law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed. A grand jury could get the case as early as next week, the official said.

The official said Paultre's meeting with the Queens prosecutor Monday was a tearful encounter for the grieving fiancee.

Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, defended the officers' actions and said police were responding to the threat of the car.

"The amount of shots fired does not spell out excessive to me," Palladino said.

The shooting has brought back memories of other police violence, particularly the 1999 killing of Diallo.

Giuliani's response in that case sparked protests nearly every day for weeks around City Hall, where demonstrators accused his administration of trampling the civil rights of blacks and Latinos.

Bloomberg's allies these days include some who were once at odds with Giuliani, many of whom acknowledge the improvements over the past five years.

"The mayor has responded in recognizing how serious this is," said Rangel as he headed into the City Hall meeting on Monday. The shooting, he added, "reminds me of a tragedy that took place with Mr. Diallo. And we can't have that. We can't have that."

Sharpton also acknowledged that the tone has changed, but said courtesy only goes so far.

"This man has better manners than his predecessor. Let's see if we have better policy ... because we're not just interested in being treated politely," Sharpton said. "We're interested in being treated fairly and rightly."

Sharpton led a rally and vigil on Sunday where a crowd of several hundred shouted "No justice, no peace," and at least one city councilman called for the ouster of the city Kelly, yelling "Kelly must go."

At one point, the crowd of a few hundred counted off to 50, the number of rounds fired.

"We cannot allow this to continue to happen," Sharpton said at the gathering outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, where one of the wounded men was in critical condition. "We've got to understand that all of us were in that car."

Bloomberg told reporters he is concerned about race relations and how this recent shooting, along with past incidents, affect the interaction of the police department with New Yorkers.

Bell's fiancee made a quiet visit to the shooting site before dawn Monday, lighting candles clustered around a photograph of the smiling couple with one of their daughters.

The survivors were Joseph Guzman, 31, who was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, who was hit three times. Guzman was in critical condition and Benefield in stable condition on Monday.