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Sharpton, Jackson visit NYC block where police killed groom hours before his wedding

NEW YORK — Police committed a crime when they killed an unarmed bridegroom as the man left his bachelor party, civil rights activist Al Sharpton said Wednesday, noting that one officer reloaded during the 50-shot barrage.
    ‘‘We believe a crime was committed against Sean. We believe a crime was committed against the other two,’’ Sharpton said, referring to 23-year-old groom Sean Bell and two men who had been partying with him at a strip club.
    The three were shot early Saturday as they sat inside a car.
    ‘‘One policeman second-loaded his gun. Ran out and reloaded,’’ Sharpton said. ‘‘And let me make this clear, that these were semiautomatic weapons. They had to consciously pull back each time. ... There was no pause. There was no ID. They kept going.’’
    Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said one 12-year veteran fired his 16-shot pistol 31 times.
    Sharpton and fellow activist Jesse Jackson appeared Wednesday with the victims’ relatives on the block in Queens where the shooting took place. Near a makeshift altar of flowers and burning candles, a wreath on an easel showed a photo of Bell, his fiancee and one of their young daughters, with the words: ‘‘Love Yourself, Stop the Violence.’’
    The community outrage was evident in signs taped up on a nearby brick wall. ‘‘Death to Police Brutality and Murder,’’ said one hand-printed sign. ‘‘Off the Pigs Who Shoot Our Kids,’’ said another.
    ‘‘This is a symbol, not an aberration. Our criminal justice system is broken down on black America, on young black males,’’ Jackson told the gathering. The victims were black, while the five officers who fired their guns included two blacks, two whites and one Hispanic.
    Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called the shootings ‘‘unacceptable,’’ ‘‘inexplicable’’ and a case of ‘‘excessive force.’’
    But experts who have studied deadly force say the confusing circumstances of the shooting make the mayor’s conclusions premature. The amount of firepower, they add, has been given too much emphasis.
    ‘‘The number of shots fired doesn’t mean anything, even though it seems a little shocking,’’ said Jim Cohen, a professor of criminal law at Fordham Law School. ‘‘We simply don’t have enough information to draw any conclusions.’’
    The shooters — four detectives and one police officer — have been placed on administrative leave while the district attorney investigates. They have remained mostly silent, though lawyers and union officials have said at least some of them are eager to give their side of the story to a grand jury.
    ‘‘We’re going to be forced to look at this through their eyes,’’ said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. ‘‘Short of hearing what they have to say, we don’t know much.’’
    Still absent are the accounts of two key witnesses: the men partying at the club with Bell. Joseph Guzman, 31, shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, hit three times, remain hospitalized.
    Police officials said Tuesday they had located a new witness who apparently saw the officers open fire. They also were trying to identify more potential witnesses by studying video recorded by a club security camera.
    The gunfire followed an undercover operation inside the club, where a team of officers in plain clothes was investigating allegations of prostitution and drug use.
    Police said Bell was involved in an argument outside the club after 4 a.m., and that one of his friends made a reference to a gun.
    The detective who was first to open fire followed Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, they drove forward — bumping him and crashing into an undercover police minivan, police said.
    After the detective fired, the others joined in, police said. Union officials familiar with the officers’ account say that the undercover detective was convinced there was a gun in the car. They also allege that Bell defied orders to stop, and used the vehicle as a weapon.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Sara Kugler and Pat Milton contributed to this report.

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