Published: March 4, 2008
The first undercover detective to enter an exotic dancing club in Queens hours before the fatal shooting of Sean Bell had misgivings from the start, telling his lieutenant he was uncomfortable with the size and rowdiness of the crowd at Club Kalua, the detective testified on Monday.
“There’s more guys; it’s a lot rowdier,” the detective, Hispolito Sanchez, 36, said he told Lt. Gary Napoli that night, Nov. 24, 2006. A fellow detective, Gescard F. Isnora, sat beside him, but Detective Sanchez was concerned about a man “looking at me hard” from across the room. “I didn’t feel comfortable,” he testified. But he said he became more at ease when a third detective, Marc Cooper, joined them.
The detective’s testimony at the trial of Detectives Isnora, Cooper and Michael Oliver was the first from a police officer who was inside Club Kalua during the hours before the shooting, which occurred early Nov. 25. Detective Sanchez also said that he had overheard an argument between Mr. Bell’s friends and another man, and that one of Mr. Bell’s friends said, “Yo, go get my gun.”
Detective Sanchez was not involved in the shooting, in which five officers fired 50 rounds, killing Mr. Bell and wounding his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield. The detective’s recollection of that night, told before Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who is hearing the case without a jury, stopped just short of the shooting as testimony ended for the day.
Investigators, including Detective Sanchez, had conducted a similar prostitution and drug operation a few nights earlier, on Nov. 22, which ended with the arrests of two women. Detective Sanchez said that when he returned on the night of Nov. 24, teaming up with Detectives Isnora and Cooper, he saw a man, Mr. Guzman, arguing with someone inside.
He testified that Detective Isnora told him that he had overheard a man in a Chicago White Sox cap tell a woman that he would “take care of” a man she had had a problem with earlier, and that the man in the cap indicated a bulge in his clothing, as if he were armed.
Shortly before closing time, Detective Sanchez said, he saw that the two other detectives had left, and he left, too. He said that he saw them outside among about 20 customers, and that Detective Isnora told him he had retrieved his gun, which he could not carry into the club.
Then Detective Sanchez said he overheard an argument between Mr. Guzman and a man standing near a sport utility vehicle in front of the club. During the argument, Mr. Bell approached and said they should all beat the man up, and Mr. Guzman said twice, “Yo, go get my gun,” Detective Sanchez said.
The man near the S.U.V. said nothing, he said. “He had his right hand in his jacket. He shot Sean Bell a look,” Detective Sanchez said.
Then Mr. Bell and his friends walked toward Liverpool Street. Detective Sanchez said he called Lieutenant Napoli and passed the phone to Detective Isnora, who followed Mr. Bell.
Detective Sanchez said he stayed behind.
Other testimony on Monday, from the first paramedics and emergency medical technicians to arrive after the shooting, described the frantic efforts to save Mr. Bell, who was in his car and had no pulse. One emergency medical technician administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation while a paramedic with an air balloon also tried to resuscitate Mr. Bell.
On cross examination, the paramedic, Lt. Elise Hanlon, testified that when she arrived on Liverpool shortly after receiving the call at 4:14 a.m., there was another ambulance parked in the area where most of the 50 police shell casings would later be found. The defense is expected to raise the possibility that the ambulance jostled the shell casings, contaminating the evidence.
Firefighter Mark Massa helped treat one of the wounded, Mr. Benefield. He said that Mr. Benefield appeared to be sober, which contradicted the defense’s portrayal of Mr. Bell’s bachelor party as a drunken affair. He also said he could not tell whether the wound in Mr. Benefield’s right buttock was an entrance or an exit wound, raising the possibility that prosecutors might suggest he was shot while running away.