New York City agreed on Tuesday to pay the family and friends of Sean Bell $7 million, four years after police officers shot and killed the 23-year-old black man the night before his wedding day. Bell’s two children will receive $3.25 million and the remaining $3 million will go to Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman, Bell’s friend who was also injured that night. Trent Benefield will get $900,000.
The New York Times reports that the wrongful death lawsuit also accused the NYPD of negligence, assault and civil rights violations. Five police officers were involved in the incident on November 26, 2006, that left Bell dead and injured two of his friends.
Bell was leaving a club in Queens the night before his wedding when NYPD officer Gescard Isadora thought he heard Bell and his friends refer to a gun in their possession. He alerted his fellow officers after Bell’s car hit an unmarked police car, and within seconds officers shot 50 bullets at Bell’s car. Three detectives who shot Bell were acquitted by a judge in 2008. The other two officers involved did not face criminal charges. Bell and his friends did not have a gun with them.
Police brutality is expensive. It’s tough to convict cops of misconduct in court, but city settlements for police misconduct is not uncommon. In the last three years, Detroit has spent over $19 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits. Between 2008 and July of this year, Newark paid $1.7 million to the victims of police misconduct. New York City already settled $35.2 million worth of lawsuits for police abuse in 2009 alone.
Insofar as payouts represent an acknowledgment of some culpability, they remain one of the only ways to wrest some justice from the courts for misbehaving cops. Still, it’s little comfort for families who’ve lost loved ones to police, when no amount of money will ever return their dead sons and fathers to them.
As NYT reports Nicole Paultre Bell, Sean Bell’s fiancee, saying outside the federal courthouse yesterday: "No amount of money can provide closure, no amount of money can make up for the pain. We’ll just try to learn how to live with it and move on." Nicole Paultre Bell will not receive a share of the settlement, because NYPD shot and killed her fiance before the couple could make it to the alter that morning and they are thus not legally related.