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Answers sought in NY police shooting

Memorial vigil held for victim

NEW YORK -- Angry residents demanded to know yesterday why police officers killed an unarmed man on the day of his wedding, firing a hail of bullets that also wounded two of the man's friends. Some called for the ouster of the city's police commissioner.

At a memorial vigil and rally the day after 23-year-old Sean Bell was supposed to have married the mother of his two young children, demonstrators led by the Rev. Al Sharpton shouted "No justice, no peace."

At one point, the crowd of a few hundred counted off to 50, the number of rounds that police said was fired by officers.

"We cannot allow this to continue to happen," Sharpton said at the gathering outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, where one of the wounded men was in critical condition. "We've got to understand that all of us were in that car."

Some in the crowd called for the ouster of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, yelling "Kelly must go."

A police officers' group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said it was issuing a vote of no confidence in Kelly over the shooting.

City officials promised to hold police accountable for their actions. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was following the case closely and he was in touch with Bell's family and community leaders.

"Although it is too early to draw conclusions . . . we know that the NYPD officers on the scene had reason to believe that an altercation involving a firearm was about to happen and were trying to stop it," Bloomberg said.

The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, said police spokesman Paul Browne .

The shootings occurred at about 4 a.m. Saturday outside the Kalua Cabaret, a strip club where Bell's bachelor party was held. The survivors were Joseph Guzman, 31, who was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, who was shot three times. Guzman was in critical condition yesterday and Benefield was stable.

Relatives of all three men -- many of them stoic, and some crying -- attended yesterday's vigil outside Mary Immaculate Hospital, but none spoke publicly.

At a news conference Saturday, Kelly said the department was still piecing together what happened, and that it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified.

The Police Department's policy on shooting at moving vehicles states: "Police officers shall not discharge their firearms at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the police officers or another person present, by means other than a moving vehicle."

The car, driven by Bell, was struck by 21 of the police bullets after the vehicle rammed an undercover officer and hit an unmarked NYPD minivan. Other shots hit nearby homes and shattered windows at a train station, though no one else was injured.

Police thought one of the men in the car might have had a gun, but investigators found no weapons. It was unclear what prompted police to open fire, Kelly said.

It also was not clear whether the shooters had identified themselves as police, Kelly said.

Kelly said the confrontation stemmed from an undercover operation inside the club in Queens. Seven officers in plain clothes were investigating the Kalua Cabaret; five of them were involved in the shooting.

According to Kelly, the groom was involved in a verbal dispute outside the club, and one of his friends made a reference to a gun.

An undercover officer walked behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, the car drove forward -- striking the officer and a nearby undercover police vehicle, Kelly said.

The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said.

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