Newsday
December 5, 2006

NYPD shooting survivors talk to DA

BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO and BRYAN VIRASAMI NEWSDAY STAFF WRITERS

Two of the men wounded outside the Jamaica strip club where Sean Bell died said during interviews with investigators Monday that there was no fourth person near the van into which police fired as the men left the Kalua Cabaret, an attorney for the men said. Lawyer Sanford Rubenstein of Brooklyn told Newsday that Joseph Guzman, 31, and Trent Benefield, 23, also denied that any police officers identified themselves as cops in the moments before the shooting started early in the morning of November 25. Bell was to be married that afternoon. Police sources have said that a mystery "fourth man" was outside the club and near the van when the shooting started and was being sought by investigators. Last week police briefly arrested and interviewed Jean Nelson, a man believed to have been the mystery person. But Rubenstein, who said he was present during the bedside interviews, stated that Guzman and Benefield emphatically denied there was a fourth person. "There was no fourth man next to car," said Rubenstein, referring to the statements given by Guzman and Benefield to investigators. Meris Campbell, a spokeswoman for Brown, confirmed that representatives of his office met with Guzman and Benefield for a couple of hours Monday but declined to release details or say who was present. Guzman and Benefield were interviewed around the same time that top police union representatives met with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and called for a fair and impartial investigation into the shooting, which took Bell's life and wounded his two friends. Brown's staff described his meeting with the heads of the Detectives' Endowment Association and the Patrolmens Benevolent Association as "cordial" but said that he refused to tell union officials when the grand jury probe into the killing of Sean Bell would complete its work. "What we want here is the grand jury to review the facts of the case, not the facts that are running in the street," said PBA president Patrick Lynch speaking to reporters outside the Kew Gardens Courthouse before he stepped inside to meet Brown. "No politics, no passion, just facts, not rumor," said Lynch. Asked why he needed to speak with Brown if he had confidence in the prosecutor, Lynch replied it was to keep politics out of the investigation. "We want to make sure that our police officers get a fair shake, no one is swayed by any of the politics," said Lynch. "Many people have met with the district attorney. We felt that it's very important that our members be represented as well." "I'd like to come away from this meeting with a comfort level that the police are going to receive a level playing field with this investigation," said Michael Palladino, head of the DEA, the detectives' union. After the meeting, Palladino said he asked Brown that the grand jurors be given an instruction that they not be swayed by news reports, according to a PBA official. Palladino couldn't be reached for comment. Meanwhile in Manhattan, organizers announced plans for a rally Wednesday outside police heaquarters to protest what they see as a pattern of abuse by police in the black and Latino communities, as well as federal law enforcement actions against Muslims. Attorney Roger Wareham, one of the rally organizers, said the event scheduled for 4:30 p.m. was actually planned a year ago, well before the police shooting of Bell and the two other men. But Democratic Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron referred to the Bell shooting when he said the black community was seeking justice in the investigation. "This is your last chance to show proper the justice system is working," Barron said. "Our people are fed up," said Barron as he refered to other instances of minority civilians killed by police such as the cases of Eleanor Bumpers, Amadou Diallou and Patrick Dorismond. However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking Monday at an event in Florida with Gov. Jeb Bush, showed that he was getting fed up with the level of some of the rhetoric surrounding the Bell shooting, including a placard that read "Death to Pigs." "It's disgusting and disgraceful, and they should have learned from the past that those kinds of thoughts and signs have no place in our society, no matter what happened Saturday morning a week ago," the mayor said. This story was supplemented with an Associated Press report.