By pursuing first-degree manslaughter charges against two detectives in the death of Sean Bell, prosecutors probably were influenced by what happened in the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, says the New York Times. The four officers indicted eight years ago in the death of Diallo in a fusillade of 41 police bullets were acquitted after having been charged with second-degree murder. Manslaughter may be easier to pursue, since prosecutors will not have to prove that the officers intended to kill Bell. They may have to prove only that the officers intended to harm someone with him in the car, and that he died as a result.
Even the manslaughter charges might be too high a hurdle to clear, given the long history of difficulties prosecutors have had in winning convictions in police violence cases. “The police officer is doing his job, he's out there, he's in plainclothes, he sees something that appears to be criminal in nature,” said defense lawyer Ronald Fischetti. “So he intended to fire, of course. But the question is: Was there wrongfulness in the intent?” If officers believe they or someone else is in imminent danger, their use of deadly force is justified under the law.