NEW YORK (AP) – Police unleashed a hail of gunfire Saturday on a car full of unarmed men driving away from a bachelor party at a strip club, killing the groom on his wedding day in a shooting that drew a furious outcry from family members and community leaders.

The officers sprayed 50 rounds at the car, hitting it 21 times, after the vehicle rammed into an undercover officer and then an unmarked NYPD minivan twice. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly would not say if the collisions were what prompted police to open fire.

Police thought one of the men in the car might have had a gun. But armed with a search warrant, police scoured the vehicle Saturday and found no weapons.

Kelly said the incident stemmed from an undercover operation inside the strip club. Seven officers in plain clothes were investigating the Kalua Cabaret, but only five were involved in the shooting. The wild gunfire also hit nearby homes and a train station, though no residents were injured.

Kelly said it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified.

The groom, who was driving, was identified as Sean Bell, 23. Joseph Guzman, 31, was in the front seat and was shot at least 11 times. Trent Benefield, 23, who was in the back seat, was hit three times. Both men were taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital. Guzman was listed in critical condition and Benefield was in stable condition.

Kelly said there may have been a fourth person in the car who fled the scene.

Three officers, including the undercover hit by the car, were treated and released. Another detective remained hospitalized for hypertension, Kelly said.

Abraham Kamara, 38, who lives on Liverpool Street a few blocks from where the shooting occurred, said he was getting ready for work at about 4 a.m. when he heard bursts of gunfire.

“First it was like four shots,” he said. “And then it was like pop-pop-pop like 12 times.”

A grand jury was investigating the incident. Kelly said none of the five officers who had a combined 49 years of experience on the job had ever discharged their weapons in the line of duty. He has not been able to interview the officers because the district attorney must first complete an investigation, he said.

Kelly said undercover officers were inside the club to document illicit activity. With one more violation the club would be shut down, Kelly said.

He said the establishment has a “chronic history of narcotics, prostitution and weapons complaints.”

The club has been closed in July 2005 for prostitution, but allowed to reopen about three months later. It has since generated complaints, Kelly said.

The Kalua Cabaret is next to an auto-body repair shop on a gritty block across from a Long Island Rail Road station. The club is housed on the first floor of a two-story brick building.

The shooting drew angry protests from family members and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Sharpton went to Jamaica Hospital, where Bell was pronounced dead, and Mary Immaculate Hospital on Saturday and held news conferences afterward. At Jamaica Hospital, the civil rights advocate stood with about two dozen members of Bell’s and his fiancee’s family.

“I will stand with this family,” he said. “This stinks. Something about the story being told did not seem right.”

Sharpton said Bell and his fiancée Dee had two children, a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old.

After meeting with the two wounded men at Mary Immaculate Hospital, Sharpton said he was outraged to find the pair handcuffed to their hospital beds.

“We’re not anti-police … we’re anti-police brutality,” he said.

Robert Porter, who identified himself as Bell’s first cousin, said he was supposed to be a DJ at the wedding. He said about 250 people were invited to the ceremony and were flying in from all over the country. He said his cousin wasn’t the type to confront police and that he was “on the straight-and-narrow.”

“I can’t really express myself. It’s a numb feeling,” Porter said. “I still don’t want to believe it, a beautiful day like this, and he was going to have a beautiful wedding, he was going to live forever with his wife and children. And this happened.”

This isn’t the first time the NYPD has come under scrutiny over police-involved shootings.

In 1999, police killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times in the Bronx. The four officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges.

And in 2003, Ousmane Zongo, 43, a native of the western African country of Burkina Faso who repaired art and musical instruments in the Manhattan warehouse, was shot to death during a police raid. Zongo was hit four times, twice in the back.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.