NEW YORK (AP) – A weekend police shooting that left a groom dead on his wedding day and two other men wounded led to an angry community outpouring Sunday, with activists questioning why as many as 50 rounds were fired by officers in the encounter with the unarmed victims.

At a vigil and rally the day after 23-year-old Sean Bell was to marry the mother of his two young children, a crowd led by the Rev. Al Sharpton shouted “No justice, no peace,” and some called for the ouster of the city Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, yelling “Kelly must go.”

Elected officials and community leaders promised to hold police accountable for the Saturday morning incident, in which officers fired the rounds at the men as they left Bell’s bachelor party in a car.

“We cannot allow this to continue to happen,” said Sharpton at the gathering outside Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens. “We’ve got to understand that all of us were in that car.”

At one point, the crowd of a few hundred counted off to 50, the number of rounds fired.

The surviving victims were Joseph Guzman, 31, who was shot at least 11 times, and Trent Benefield, 23, who was hit three times. The shootings occurred outside the Kalua Cabaret, a strip club where the bachelor party was held. Both men are at Mary Immaculate Hospital, where Guzman was in critical condition and Benefield listed as stable.

Relatives of the men, including Bell’s fiancee, attended Sunday’s vigil and rally but none spoke publicly.

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

Chief police spokesman Paul Browne on Sunday confirmed reports that the five officers who fired were placed on paid administrative leave, a procedure that is administrative but not disciplinary, while the investigation goes on. He said the police department had taken their guns.

The officers will remain on leave “until we learn more about the circumstances of the shooting,” Browne said. “There are still a number of unanswered questions.”

The officers’ shots struck the men’s car 21 times after the vehicle rammed into an undercover officer and hit an unmarked NYPD minivan. The wild gunfire hit nearby homes and shattered windows at a train station, though no residents were 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.

Kelly said the incident stemmed from an undercover operation inside the strip club in the Jamaica section of Queens. Seven officers in plain clothes were investigating the Kalua Cabaret.

According to Kelly, the groom was involved in a verbal dispute outside the club after 4 a.m. One of his friends made a reference to a gun.

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

The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. That officer had served on the force for five years. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said.

It was the first time any of the officers, who all carried 9 mm handguns, had been involved in a shooting, Kelly said.

At some point, Bell, who was driving, backed his car up onto the sidewalk, hitting a building gate. He then drove forward, striking the police vehicle a second time, Kelly said.

It was unclear whether the shooters had identified themselves as police, Kelly said.

Kelly’s account of the events was based on statements made by witnesses and the two officers who did not shoot their weapons. Police could not question the other officers because the district attorney must first complete an investigation, Kelly said.

Kelly said there may have been a fourth person in the car who fled the scene. Three officers, including the officer hit by the car, were treated and released. Another detective remained hospitalized Sunday for hypertension.

The police department’s policy on shooting at moving vehicles is somewhat ambiguous. The guideline 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.”

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 had a “chronic history of narcotics, prostitution and weapons complaints.”

On Sunday, the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care said it is issuing a vote of no confidence in Kelly over the shooting. It also wants the removal of the Organized Crime Control Bureau chief, Anthony Izzo, who it says created the undercover unit involved in the incident.

Browne said Sunday, “We are continuing to look for additional witnesses to shed light on the incident and assisting the district attorney’s office with its investigation.”

Community leaders are planning a rally at police headquarters for Dec. 6.

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 was shot to death during a police raid. The 43-year-old, a native of the western African country of Burkina Faso, was hit four times, twice in the back.



Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.


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