Bloomberg meets with family of shooting victim


NEW YORK, Nov. 28, 2006--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 publicly reached out to a community angry over the weekend shootings outside a strip club.

Bloomberg went to the family's Queens church, where he met for over an hour with the parents and fiancee of the victim, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. The mayor then met at a restaurant with about 50 community leaders.

Bloomberg described the meeting as "open, honest and blunt, which is the way it should be."

"I don't know how to characterize the parents' feelings besides they lost a son and they are never going to see that son again," he said.

The mayor said he explained the procedures of the investigation to the family and was committed to keeping them informed.

"I am going to give them every fact we have," Bloomberg said. "We will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation."

"I am commited to making sure that justice is served ... that everybody is treated fairly."

Bloomberg 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.

The mayor stood by his comments Tuesday.

"I am a civilian. I am not a professional law enforcement officer," he said. "I used the word excessive and that's fine. That was my personal opinion. It may turn out to be that it was not excessive."

Monday, flanked by most of the two dozen community leaders with whom he had just met, Bloomberg went out of his way to note that the investigation is far from over and that he supports Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

But in saying the dead man, Sean Bell, 23, and two friends who were shot and wounded had done nothing wrong, he appeared to be at odds with police accounts that one of the victims, Joseph Guzman, 31, had left the club to get a gun. No gun was found. And while police sources say there is no evidence to indicate the shooting victims had a gun, police have still not ruled out the possibility a fourth person may have fled the scene with a gun. They also said that Guzman, an ex-convict who according to state records served time in prison for drug possession, weapons possession and robbery, may have planned to get a gun elsewhere, then return to the club.

Bloomberg's comments followed a morning meeting at City Hall in which he and Kelly talked with a number of noted activists and politicians from Jamaica, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Charles Rangel.

"It's hard to understand -- and keep in mind I was not there at the time -- why shots should be fired," Bloomberg said. "To me, that sounds excessive and unacceptable."

But New York PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said the mayor's comments were "premature and not based on a full and proper investigation.

"Premature statements made without the benefit of all of the facts only serve to inflame tensions and prejudice the rights of those who are presumptively innocent," Lynch added.

The shots were fired within 10 to 15 seconds, police sources said, adding that it would appear to be a violation of the training police officers received.

Kelly said officers are told that in incidents in which they shoot their weapons they should assess the situation after firing three times.

But one officer, a 12-year veteran, fired 31 times from his 9-mm pistol, meaning he emptied the gun's magazine and then reloaded.

The officers -- one Hispanic, two black and two white -- have been placed on desk duty and stripped of their guns. Four of them are detectives and one is an officer. The Queens district attorney's office is expected to present the case to a grand jury, law enforcement sources said.

The shooting, to some community leaders is likened to the Bronx death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of four cops from the Street Crime Unit in 1999, occurred after a night of celebration at Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica.

The notorious strip club was shut down for several months last year under terms of the Nuisance Abatement Act and police recently made arrests there for prostitution and drug sales.

Two undercover officers who left their badges and guns in an unmarked car stepped past security guards and into the club at 12:40 a.m. Sunday to look for criminal activity, police said.

Bell, a deliveryman and father of two, who was set to marry later that day was there with seven friends.

What happened next is still not entirely clear.

The Queens district attorney's office, in a routine move, has asked the New York Police Department not to interview the cops who fired their weapons until its investigation is complete.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement, "I will reach no conclusions until the investigation is complete. There will be no rush to judgment."The two detectives involved who did not fire their weapons have been interviewed. But one was a block away when shots were fired and the other, a lieutenant, was taking cover at the time and did not see much, police said.

There were likely a number of other witnesses, sources said, but many ran off. Police sources said that video tape from a security camera inside the club, shows a number of patrons entering and exiting the club. Police plan to try and track down as many people as possible in an effort to find witnesses who may have fled after the shooting.

Those who have been interviewed include Guzman and the other shooting victim, Trent Benefield, 23, each of whom had been drinking fairly heavily, sources said.

Police do believe, however, that the shooting was set in motion when one of the undercover officers saw a bouncer in a white baseball cap approach a woman, possibly a dancer at the club, tell her he was aware of some problems she had earlier with some men. The bouncer patted his waistband to indicate he was carrying a gun.

After calling other officers on his cell phone, the undercover officer left the club, sources said, and saw an argument between two groups of men, one of them including Bell and his friends.

Guzman at that point was heard telling his friends he wanted to get his gun, police said.

At the same time, back-up police officers raced to the scene and the undercover officers, who had left their guns in an unmarked police car because club security searches for weapons, were retrieving their weapons.

One of the undercover officers, a detective, got in front of Bell's car to stop him from driving off.

It is not clear if he identified himself as an officer -- two police sources said he did, but police officials have not yet determined if that was the case.

Either way, Bell hit the gas and struck the police officer, then twice struck a police minivan.

The NYPD Patrol Guide prohibits officers from firing at a car if no other weapon is being used by the suspect -- but there are exceptions, sources said. If the undercover officers believe that Guzman had a gun, that would seem to provide the reason to fire at the car, sources said.

The undercover officer fired 11 times, police said and gunfire was quickly followed by shots from four colleagues.

Bell, struck in the neck and arm, died at the scene.

Benefield, hit in the leg and buttocks, is in stable condition at Mary Immaculate Hospital. Guzman, shot at least 11 times along his right side, was in critical, but stable condition at the same hospital.

The undercover officer who did not fire his weapon had two beers, the amount allowed, as police want undercover officers to blend into their surroundings, but remain fit for duty, police said. It is not clear if the undercover officer who fired his weapon had been drinking.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.