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New York Judge Acquits Detectives in Controversial Shooting 


One of the most highly charged trials in New York in recent years has ended in a controversial verdict. A judge has acquitted three undercover police detectives of all charges in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in the early hours of his wedding day. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports city officials say the police are prepared but do not anticipate any violence.

Sean Bell died in a hail of bullets in the early hours of November 25, 2006 as he left his bachelor party at a run-down nightclub in the city. Two of Bell's companions were injured. Some 50 bullets were fired by undercover police detectives investigating prostitution. One detective fired 31 shots.

The excessive number of bullets provoked widespread anger over the use of deadly force, especially in the black community. All the victims were black as were two of the three officers who were charged.

The defendants asked to have a judge decide the case rather than a jury. Their lawyers said jurors would likely be biased against the detectives because of the intense pre-trial publicity.

After 28 days of testimony, Judge Arthur Cooperman handed down an acquittal, finding the officers' actions were not criminal.

Before announcing the verdict, Cooperman also said the version of events presented by the police officers was more credible that that of the victims. The defense said the victims were drunk and the police officers thought they were armed and dangerous. Prosecutors presented the police as trigger-happy.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, whose office prosecuted the case, says he believes the judge discharged his responsibilities fairly and he accepts the verdict. But he says the trial was only round one in a long process.

"Criminal responsibility is a lot different than civil responsibility. You have other things out there. These defendants and the other officers who were involved that evening still have a number of hurdles to cross before somebody says they have been fully exonerated. There will, I am sure, be administrative proceedings brought by the police department. Beyond that, there is also a civil suit pending. The burdens of proof are entirely different," he said.

The detectives, put on leave at the time of the shooting, face administrative charges that could result in their dismissal from the New York Police Department.

After the verdict, the New York civil rights leader Al Sharpton called for new protests.

City officials put the police force on alert for potential violent reactions to the judge's decision.

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