Friday, December 01, 2006

NYPD Targets Associates of Shooting Victims; Community Outraged at Harassment by Cops

New York Daily News -

Raids in slaying stir fresh anger


Friday, December 1st, 2006

NYPD raids aimed at flushing an "important" witness to the 50-shot police barrage that killed Sean Bell on his wedding day ratcheted up tensions yesterday in Queens, where angry residents accused cops of blaming the victims. The dragnet did not find the mysterious
"fourth man" who cops believe fled the tragic shooting - although detectives were still questioning at least one person early today.

Cops arrested at least six people, several on gun charges unrelated to the shooting. But police failed to find the gun that cops say they believe the mystery man ran off with when undercover and plainclothes cops opened fire early Saturday.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the raids - as sources said at least four witnesses have told investigators they saw a man in a tan jacket standing near Bell's car just before the shooting erupted.

"The existence of a fourth person is important to this investigation," Kelly said.

But Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for the two men wounded in the shooting - Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31 - said, "The concept of a fourth man is a myth, created by whoever for whatever spin."

Cops using information gleaned from the raids zeroed in on Jean Nelson, who some investigators believed could be the fourth man, sources said.

Nelson - a 27-year-old known on the street as M.O. - was one of several men who gathered for Bell's bachelor party at the Kalua Cabaret strip club in Jamaica before the fatal police shooting.

Cops picked up Nelson early yesterday, then kicked him loose without charging him - leading a high-ranking law enforcement source to say he was not the mystery man.

But detectives grabbed Nelson again about 8:25 p.m. after he stepped out of his Sutphin Blvd. building and hustled him off in a police car, his dad said.

"Cops are hassling everyone in the complex. They're messing with poor people," said Nelson's dad, who declined to give his name. "They are trying to frame people."

Four hours earlier, cops raided a Bronx apartment and took away Eric Kellam, 29, his sister said. Cops told the 23-year-old woman the raid was "in connection to the Sean Bell shooting" and revealed they were looking for a man named Nelson, showing her a photo, she said.

The aggressive tactics infuriated black residents in Jamaica, who are seething over the fatal police shooting of yet another unarmed black man.

"I think what they are doing is repulsive, disgusting and deplorable," said Bishop Erskine Williams Sr., whose son was among those nabbed Wednesday and yesterday during the raids.

"They are trying to put together something to cover up an assassination and an execution of this young boy," said Williams, who has been acting as a spokesman for Benefield and Guzman.

Cops conducted the first raid at 6 a.m. Wednesday at the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica, taking four people into custody. A loaded 9-mm. handgun and a small amount of marijuana were recovered in an apartment, which sources called a known drug-dealing location.

Three men in the home were charged with criminal possession of a weapon - the 9-mm. handgun, which police said had no link to Saturday's shooting.

One of those rousted, LaToya Smith, 26, who was not charged, said cops didn't ask her anything about the gun. She said they questioned her about Bell's pals and told her, "If you don't tell us what we want to hear, you know, you can get five years."

A second raid at Baisley yesterday resulted in the arrest of Williams' son, Erskine Jr., 26, for failing to pay a $25 fine for trespassing last year. His friend Jameek Benston was also taken into custody.

"They wanted to know what I was talking to Trent about," said the younger Williams, who had spent two nights sitting by Benefield's bed at Mary Immaculate Hospital. "They told me I knew who the fourth guy was."

Williams Jr. said that when he denied knowing who the fourth man was, they accused him of selling drugs and asked if he knew local thugs..

Bell, Benefield and Guzman were shot on Liverpool St. after an undercover cop followed them out of the Kalua Cabaret, where a police task force was investigating prostitution.

Believing Guzman had a gun, the undercover followed the men to Bell's car and fired the opening salvo after Bell, 23, clipped him with the vehicle.

Michael Hardy, a lawyer who represents Guzman and Benefield, said the wounded men told him unequivocally that there was no fourth man and cops never identified themselves before shooting.

"They were not aware the person who began shooting at their vehicle was a police officer," Hardy told New York 1 last night, adding the victims thought they were being

Hardy quoted Guzman as saying Bell turned to him in the front seat and uttered his last words - "I love you, son." The undercover cop and police union officials say the cops fired after Bell hit the undercover and Guzman reached for a gun. No gun has been found.

The officers - two black, two white and one dark-skinned Hispanic - have been placed on paid leave and told to give up their guns.

Charles King, a lawyer representing at least three of the men who witnessed the shooting, said they were willing to testify before a grand jury probing the incident.

"These witnesses said the undercover never identified himself. Never," King said. "Police say they are searching for a fourth man? There was no fourth person in the car."

New York Daily News -

Black and targeted by NYPD

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Around 6 a.m. Wednesday, LaToya Smith, 26, was playing in her bed in southeastern Queens with her 7-month-old son Jalyn.

Just then, she heard a strange noise in her family's darkened house. Her locked bedroom door suddenly burst open, and several uniformed cops burst into the room with flashlights and guns drawn.

According to Smith, the cops ordered her to lie facedown on the floor.

"My baby, my baby. Where's my baby?" she recalls pleading to them as they hustled her into the living room. There, they gathered her brothers Timothy Smith, 19, and Stanley Smith, 23; her mother, Laura; the baby and Christopher Keys, 18, a friend who was staying in the apartment. Meanwhile, a dozen officers searched the entire place.

Police officials said they found a loaded 9-mm. pistol in the apartment and a small bag of marijuana, whereupon they hauled the young woman and the three men to the 103rd Precinct stationhouse. They charged the men with gun possession, but released LaToya Smith.

Police also are saying the apartment was a known drug-dealing location.

But the real purpose of the raid was not to find guns or pot.

All the cops' questions at the stationhouse were about last weekend's police shooting of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield outside the Kalua Cabaret, Smith said.

They kept asking if she knew the whereabouts of certain friends of the three men shooting victims.

"If you don't tell us what we want to hear, you know, you can get five years," she says one cop told her.

Thus, in a bizarre twist almost as inexplicable as the original 50-shot fusillade, the NYPD is raiding homes and picking up young blacks in southeastern Queens in an all-out effort to locate an alleged "fourth man," a man investigators say was at the scene of the shooting and fled.

Then at 6 a.m. yesterday, cops raided a second apartment in the Smith building and arrested Erskine Willliams Jr. and Jameek Bentson.

Williams was hauled away for an unpaid $25 ticket from last year. But the real reason was his friendship with Benefield, whom he visited several times at the hospital this week. Williams said cops only wanted to know what he talked to Benefield about.

Erskine Williams Sr., his father, is furious. The father is the unofficial spokesman for the Benefield family. He is also a local minister and the uncle of Smith and her brothers.

"That's a lie," Williams Sr. said about the police drug allegations against the Smiths. "I live two doors down from there. I know what goes on there. The police will say anything."

Black leaders who learned of the raids in recent days say police would never use such heavy-handed tactics in a white neighborhood.

"They can arrest every black person in Queens," said Michael Hardy, one of the lawyers for the wounded men, "but none of those people were at the party or in the car with my clients."

"The NYPD is involved in character assassination so they can justify last weekend's shooting in the court of public opinion," the Rev. Al Sharpton said. "They are trying to make the victims into suspects."

But there is one big difference, Sharpton said, between last weekend's shooting and the infamous killing of Amadou Diallo.

"With Diallo, we only had the testimony of the policemen in the foyer. This time, we have seven or eight people who witnessed this shooting."

It was, after all, a bachelor party for Sean Bell that night. There were several friends of the dead man who left the club when it closed just before the shooting.

Sharpton and lawyers close to Bell's family are now saying some of those witnesses have yet to come forward.

The facts of what happened outside the Kalua Cabaret are not yet fully known. But one thing is clear: The NYPD will not encourage any witnesses to come forward by breaking down doors in the black community.

New York Daily News -

Mike to skip funeral at kin's behest

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday he'll honor the wishes of Sean Bell's relatives and not attend tonight's funeral for the 23-year-old groom who was killed last Saturday by police bullets.

"I talked to their minister yesterday and decided that I'm not going to go to the funeral," Bloomberg said. "I've expressed myself and my sympathies on behalf of the city to the family."

But Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who lives in Bell's neighborhood and is black, will attend the funeral at 7 p.m. at Community Church of Christ in Jamaica.

Bishop Lester Williams, the church pastor, confirmed the family asked Bloomberg to stay away.

"The mayor is doing the right thing and respecting their wishes that this not be turned into a media frenzy," Williams said.

Bloomberg met privately Tuesday at Williams' church with Bell's parents, William and Valerie, and his fiancée, Nicole Paultre. Bell and Paultre were supposed to get married the day he was killed and his two friends were wounded by police outside a seedy strip club.

Plainclothes and undercover cops fired 50 bullets at the unarmed men after Bell twice rammed his car into an unmarked police van.

Bloomberg has characterized the number of shots fired as "excessive," which has angered some police advocates.

At the same time, black community leaders have bristled at Bloomberg's unwillingness to outright condemn the police involved in the shooting.

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