NEW YORK (Reuters) – The fiancee of Sean Bell, an unarmed black man killed by police in a 50-shot barrage hours before his wedding, sued the New York City Police Department and several of its officers on Tuesday for wrongful death and civil rights violations. The fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, and two of Bell’s friends involved in the shooting, seek unspecified damages in the suit. It accuses five police officers of recklessness and negligence for firing at Bell and his two friends outside a strip club where they were holding a bachelor party.
The killing of Bell, 23, generated outrage among blacks in New York and sparked memories of previous cases of police shootings of unarmed black men. A white and a Hispanic detective face criminal manslaughter charges and a third, who is black, was charged with reckless endangerment. Two other officers were cleared of criminal charges. But the civil suit filed on Tuesday names all five officers as well as the police department, which the suit says had not adequately trained its officers and had “failed to tear down the ‘blue wall of silence'” surrounding police bias. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn.
The five officers shot at Bell’s car around 4 a.m. on November 25 in the mistaken belief someone had gone to fetch a gun to settle a dispute inside the club in New York’s Queens borough, police said. Bell’s two friends, Joseph Guzman, who was shot 16 times, and Trent Benefield, also sued for false arrest and imprisonment and for emotional and physical distress. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said the civil suit could not proceed until the criminal trial had finished.