The three New York police officers who killed unarmed Sean Bell in a 50-shot barrage outside a strip club hours before his wedding will not face civil rights charges, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
It was the final brick wall for the family of the victim.
The parents and former fiancee of Sean Bell, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, had lobbied federal prosecutors to charge the officers with violating Bell’s civil rights.
“After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the law enforcement personnel who fired at Bell [and two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield] acted willfully,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed.”
U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell broke the news to Bell’s family members Tuesday. Guzman, Benefield and Bell’s fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell, were to appear at a news conference later Tuesday.
The family “will not stop our pursuit of justice in this matter until every measure in the criminal and civil arena has been exhausted,” Sharpton said in a statement. “Fifty shots on an unarmed man who engaged in no crime is intolerable.”
An attorney for one of the New York Police Department officers called it “the right decision.”
Accusing the officers of federal crimes after a state court acquittal “would have been a real stretch,” said the lawyer, James Culleton. “Everyone should move on.”
Bell, a 23-year-old black man, was killed and his friends were seriously injured outside Kalua Cabaret in Queens, N.Y., in 2006 as they were leaving his bachelor party by car. The officers, all undercover detectives, had been investigating reports of prostitution at the club.
No weapon was found in Bell’s blood-splattered, bullet-riddled car.