New York City’s Sean Bell case had seemed open-and-shut: Police fired 50 bullets at a group of friends in a car and killed an unarmed black man on the morning of his wedding day in 2006. The Washington Post says that when the prosecution rested its case yesterday after more than five weeks of a trial of three police officers charged in the killing, the facts in the racially charged incident seemed muddled.
Joseph Guzman, who sustained 19 bullet wounds in the passenger seat of Bell’s car, gave a detailed account of what he saw, contradicting testimony from the police and of other prosecution witnesses. What is not in dispute is that detectives fired at Bell and his friends outside a strip club where the trio had held Bell’s bachelor party. Almost everyone has testified to seeing and hearing the chaotic events differently. Key facts are still in doubt: Bell, 23, and his friends did or did not argue with a stranger outside the club and threaten to go get a gun as a bluff, putting detectives on alert. The car Bell was driving did or did not hit a police officer, an unmarked police van, and a wall, causing the detectives to believe they were under attack and to open fire. Plainclothed detectives did or did not say they were police and show their badges before shooting.