Detective Gescard Isnora, the undercover cop who fired the first shots in the controversial shooting death of Sean Bell in 2006, told his story publicly for the first time today.
He was testifying in the NYPD departmental trial that's seeking to push him out of his job, claiming he failed to follow proper, undercover police procedure on November 25, 2006, when Bell and two friends were leaving a bachelor party at a Queens strip club -- hours before Bell's wedding to Nicole Paultre. A Queens Supreme Court judge found Isnora and two other detectives "not guilty" on homicide charges back in 2008, but Isnora could now be forced out of the NYPD, if the department's administrative judge finds he didn't follow guidelines.
In dramatic testimony, Isnora acknowledged he was nervous when he entered Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens on Friday night, November 24th, 2006, the day after Thanksgiving. He had completed an undercover "drug buy" there several days before, resulting in the arrest of two women. Isnora said he initially left his police gun and shield in the undercover detective's car, getting "patted down" by the nightclub's bouncer, as his partner bought a rum and coke and tried to blend in with other patrons.
Isnora said he was trying to see if women in the club solicited him for prostitution. In the early hours of Saturday, November 25th, he left the club and started heading back to his unit car. That's when he noticed his "ghost" -- the police partner who shadowed him -- was not with his group. Isnora said he got his gun and shield and started heading back to the club. That's when he saw a black SUV pull up, and a man leaning on the side of the vehicle, as a group of male patrons came outside. He said a woman yelled, "I'm not gonna (expletive) you all!" That's when Isnora said a large male in the group, later identified as Joseph Guzman, stated, "Go get my gun! Go get my Gun!" Isnora testified, "Another individual said, 'Let's f-- 'em up'....later known to me as Sean Bell."
Detective Isnora said he called his Lieutenant, who instructed the detective to follow the group. He quoted Guzman again, "He's like, 'Go get my gun! Go get my gun! Very emphatic! If you say it, chances are you're gonna do it. And that was my understanding. He was gonna do it."
Isnora said he was hoping his field team would get to the corner where the group was heading before he did. But he arrived alone, taking out his shield and clasping it in his hand. He testified he saw three people hurry into a light-colored car and that he noticed the Lieutenant's vehicle go by. "I had the firearm right in front of the car," Isnora testified. "I basically said, 'Police! Don't Move!' Seconds right after, the car then hits me. I went to the left side of the car. I see the car is racing back towards me and then hits the metal bar of the building. I see Joseph Guzman reaching towards something, like he's going to bring his arm up. As he's bringing it up, I yelled 'Gun!' and fired toward the center mass of the car. All I saw was the arm coming up. I absolutely did not want that to happen."
Isnora said the car Bell was in then hit the police van and other detectives ended up firing a total of 50 shots at the car, resulting in Bell's death. "I noticed someone crawling out the car's window," Isnora testified.That was likely Trent Benefield, who received $900,000 in a civil settlement with the city. Joseph Guzman, who suffered more severe injuries, received a three million dollar settlement. The Sean Bell estate was awarded $3.25 million dollars.
Nicole Paultre -- the young mother of Bell's two children, who legally changed her name to Bell after the shooting, listened to the testimony with Sean Bell's parents. She told PIX 11 earlier outside court, "These men should be thrown off the force, for their senseless activity that night." Isnora is facing the departmental charges with Officer Michael Carey, who fired three shots. "What's even more upsetting to me," Paultre-Bell added, "is the officer who fired 31 times is trying to work out a retirement deal." Paultre-Bell was talking about Officer Michael Oliver, acquitted at trial, who is hoping to preserve his police pension. "It's a disrespect to our family and the people of New York," Paultre-Bell said to PIX 11. Michael Palladino, President of the Detective's Endowment Association, said outside the hearing, "He deserves his pension. He acted appropriately." Palladino added, "The detectives were out there in good faith. Bell and Guzman had criminal records. There was alcohol involved, possible prostitution, talk of guns." What there wasn't, however, was a gun inside the car Bell, Guzman and Benefield were riding in.
The lawyer representing the NYPD pointed out to Isnora there are critical factors undercovers are supposed to observe, including not over-reacting to danger signs. Isnora testified he was only promoted to detective three months before the shooting and was trying to get transferred out of a unit that required him to do dangerous, undercover "drug buys" at night clubs and housing projects. The son of a Haitian father and Mexican mother -- raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn -- said he was a graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Now he's trying to save his job.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun