A New York City grand jury has charged detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper in the shooting of Sean Bell, who died in a storm of 50 police bullets hours before his wedding in November, says the New York Times. In indictments being unsealed today, Isnora and Oliver reportedly were charged with manslaughter; Cooper with reckless endangerment. If the detectives are found guilty of felonies, state law requires that they immediately be fired.
Even if the detectives are acquitted, it seems unlikely that their careers will ever be the same. The officers could lose vacation days, be reassigned to endless desk jobs without their guns, or be even fired. “There's a very significant range of formal and informal sanctions,” said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay School of Criminal Justice. “At the top end, there's criminal conviction with incarceration, which is unlikely,” he said, explaining that prosecutors often have trouble proving criminal intent when the police shoot someone. “Equally unlikely is that they'll ever be back in front-line enforcement.” In the case of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed West African immigrant killed by 19 of the 41 bullets fired at him by four officers in 1999, all four officers were indicted but later acquitted. None was given back a guns; two officers left for the Fire Department, a third retired; the fourth, Kenneth Boss, has sued in an effort to be moved from a desk job back to active duty.