The city reached a settlement with the family of Sean Bell, who was fatally shot by the police on the eve of his wedding in November 2006. His family will receive $3.25 million; his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, who also injured from the 50 shots fired by undercover police, will receive $3 million and $900,000 respectively. The NYC Law Department Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said, "The Sean Bell shooting highlighted the complexities our dedicated officers must face each day. The City regrets the loss of life in this tragic case, and we share our deepest condolences with the Bell family."
Bell was leaving a bachelor party at Club Kalua, a strip club in Jamaica, Queens, when undercover police officers, on the scene to make prostitution arrests, believed Bell and his friends were armed. Then a chaotic scene unfolded: The undercover detectives claimed they identified themselves and told Bell, Guzman and Benefield to get out of the car while drawing their guns, but it's unclear if Bell, who was driving, heard them and drove into the cops upon seeing the drawn guns. When Guzman reached for his waistband, the police thought they were going to be fired upon, so they fired in return. It turned out that none of the men were armed.
Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, told the Daily News, "I believe the settlement is fair. No amount of money can provide closure for losing Sean. I don't think there will ever be closure," adding, "What's important is my fight doesn't end now." The News says she is pushing state legislatures to pass a package of laws to reform the Civilian Complaint Review Board, require drug testing when cops fire their guns and ban arrest quotas."
Paultre Bell's and Bell's two daughters are now 4 and 7 years old; the children will receive the money because she and Bell were not married at the time when he was killed (she later took his last name). Guzman said, "I don’t think a black or Hispanic man’s life means much in this city." Guzman still has four bullets in his back, "I deal with so much pain, I don't even feel it."
Michael Palladino, the head of the Detectives Endowment Association, said the settlement was "laughable" and "absurd," "The taxpayer is on the hook for $7 million and the lawyers walk away with $2 million and the one with the most culpability here is Sean Bell. There's something wrong with that picture, because if you take a look at the situation in its entirety, it’s that the police were there performing their lawful duty; Bell was intoxicated and he tried to run the police down."
In 2008, three of the police officers were found not guilty of charges including manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault.