New York Daily News

December 5, 2006

Pal of Sean begs, 'No violence'

Survivor of police shooting calls Bell a superstar


Whispering from his hospital bed, police shooting survivor Joseph Guzman yesterday called on New Yorkers outraged by the death of his pal Sean Bell to refrain from violence.

"I don't want any violence," Guzman said, clad in green hospital pajamas and with his pregnant fiancée, Eboni Browning, looking on. "No violence, man. No violence. Not in my name."

He spoke hoarsely from his bed at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, his room cold and antiseptic.

"You could put this in the newspaper," Guzman said as he grasped the hand of a Daily News reporter. "I took 16 shots, but a superstar died that night."

Gripping the reporter's hand tighter, Guzman said it again: "Superstar."

"I loved him," he said of Bell.

Guzman spoke as The News learned that he, fellow shooting survivor Trent Benefield, and Bell were the targets of a police probe into a drug ring operating out of the Baisley Park apartments in South Jamaica, according to law enforcement sources.

On the surface, the investigation did not appear to be related to the fatal shooting of Bell, whose death is roiling the mostly black neighborhood. Asked whether the plainclothes cops who gunned the 23-year-old Bell down on his wedding day in a 50-shot barrage identified themselves, Guzman gave an emphatic "Never!"

Guzman, 31, and Benefield, 23, were questioned at the hospital yesterday by Queens prosecutor Charles Testagrossa. He asked the men - both in stable condition - about a fourth man sources believe was present.

"They were unequivocal that there was no fourth person in the car and that the person who approached their car with a gun never identified himself," lawyer Michael Hardy said.

Meanwhile, sources said Guzman, Benefield and Bell already were on the police radar before the Nov. 25 shooting. A confidential police informant bought four bags of crack on Aug. 16 and again two days later at a Sutphin Blvd. pad, the sources said. The seller was Sean Bell, the law enforcement sources said.

Bell was not arrested then because police were trying to track down his alleged suppliers. He had been arrested twice in the past eight months on drug charges and he was busted in 2000 as a juvenile for possession of a firearm and three air pistols, the sources said.

Guzman's record includes nine arrests for drugs. And Benefield was busted with pot in November 2004 and as a teen in 2002 for armed robbery, sources said.

Hardy, who represents Benefield, Guzman and Bell's fiancée, said he did not know of any drug investigation.

"This is another indication that the New York City Police Department is not investigating any wrongdoing by the officers at the scene but are interested in . . . creating cover and motivation to justify the officers' actions and dirty the name of a dead man," Hardy said.

Amid the allegations, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association chief Patrick Lynch and Detectives' Endowment Association President Michael Palladino met with Queens District Attorney .Richard Brown. The union leaders have defended the five cops who fired the fatal shots. "What we want here is for the grand jury to review the facts of the case, not the facts that are running in the street," Lynch said.

The five cops - one Hispanic, two white and two black - are on leave and have turned in their weapons.

Guzman and Benefield had thrown a bachelor party for Bell at the seedy Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica, unaware that undercover cops were in the joint. Thinking that Guzman was armed, one of the undercovers followed the three to Bell's car. What happened next is in dispute.

Police say the undercover identified himself as a cop and opened fire when Bell clipped him with his car. Guzman and Benefield - and at least five other witnesses - have given a different account of the shooting.

With Juan Gonzalez and Scott Shifrel