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NEW YORK -- With federal officials still reviewing the case, the NYPD yesterday filed internal disciplinary charges against seven officers in the Sean Bell shooting.
The move came with the U.S. Justice Department still considering federal civil rights charges against detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, all of whom were acquitted of state charges last month.
The NYPD's administrative guidelines mandate any disciplinary action must occur within 18 months of the incident in question.
Bell, 23, was shot dead Nov. 25, 2006, his wedding day, after leaving Club Kahlua, a Jamaica strip club where he and his friends held his bachelor party. Police working at the club moved in on Bell and his two friends thinking one had a gun. Bell died in a hail of 50 bullets, 31 fired by Oliver. Friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were badly hurt.
No gun was found, and the shooting renewed criticism that the NYPD routinely profiles minorities, even though Isnora and Cooper are black. The NYPD has denied it engages in racial profiling. It had no comment yesterday, other than to reveal the charges against each officer.
Isnora, Oliver and Cooper are charged with firing weapons in violation of department guidelines. Isnora, the lead undercover officer who first confronted Bell as Bell got into his car, also was charged with taking law enforcement action while in an undercover capacity.
The NYPD recommends arrests be made by a backup team, though Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said there are situations where the undercover has no choice but to get involved in an arrest.
Lt. Gary Napoli, the scene supervisor who has been sharply criticized for his handling of the operation, is charged with failing to ensure a complete and accurate tactical plan was prepared. Also charged are Officer Michael Carey, who fired his weapon that night but did not face state charges, and two members of the Crime Scene Unit, Det. Robert Knapp and Sgt. Hugh McNeil, who face charges of failing to thoroughly process the crime scene.
Detectives' Endowment Association head Michael Palladino said the union would defend the detectives before the NYPD as vigorously as it did in court.
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch called it "regrettable" that Carey was charged. "We are confident that on further review by the NYPD of his actions they will find that he acted fully within the scope of his duty and the guidelines of the department," Lynch said.
The officers could face discipline as minor as lost vacation days, or as severe as termination. If they do not plead guilty, they will stand trial at One Police Plaza, and the trials commissioner will make a recommendation to Kelly that he can sign off on, modify or overturn. The Rev. Al Sharpton said the departmental charges are a "step in the right direction" but the NYPD should follow the lead of the Philadelphia police department, which fired four white officers for beating three black men.
Staff writer Anthony M. DeStefano contributed to this story.