NEW YORK (AP) — The fiancee of an unarmed man killed by police in 50-bullet barrage and a friend who survived the shooting said Wednesday that a settlement of the federal civil lawsuit with New York City that topped $7 million was fair but not cause for celebration.
“Nobody wins in this,” a somber Joseph Guzman — who was shot 17 times and still wears a leg brace — said at a news conference a day after the settlement was announced.
The deal in a case that ignited community outrage and raised questions about police firepower awards $3.25 million to the estate of Sean Bell, $3 million to Guzman and $900,000 to a third victim, Trent Benefield, minus 30 percent legal fees.
The Bell estate payout will benefit two young daughters he had with Nicole Paultre Bell, who legally took his name after his death.
The fiancee called the settlement “reasonable.” But, she added, the girls “will never have their father.”
Bell, 23, died in a hail of 50 bullets on Nov. 25, 2006, around the corner from a Queens topless bar where he had just had a bachelor party and where undercover police were investigating complaints of prostitution.
At a two-month trial in 2008, Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper said they opened fire on a car carrying Bell and his friends because they believed the men were armed and because the men defied orders to halt and tried to drive away. No weapon was recovered.
A judge who heard the case instead of a jury cleared the three officers of manslaughter and other charges. He said in a decision that prosecution witnesses who testified that the officers opened fire without warning lacked credibility.
The officers remain on modified duty and are facing departmental charges that could result in their dismissal.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers called the settlement amount the largest ever for a fatal police shooting — a claim that city officials confirmed. It follows other multimillion-dollar payouts in high-profile civil lawsuits involving the police department.
In June, the city agreed to pay a record amount for a civil rights lawsuit when it settled for $9.9 million with Barry Gibbs, an innocent man who spent 19 years in prison after being framed by a police detective.
In 2001, the city and police union agreed to pay $8.7 million to Abner Louima, who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick in a police precinct by officers. After legal fees, Louima was left with about $5.8 million.
The plaintiffs in the Bell case said Wednesday they would now lobby for pending state legislation that calls for a special prosecutor for police shootings, more firearms training for officers and other measures.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.