Cop Killers

What a week: Badge-wearers who kill get indicted; and a nut job blows away two aspiring flatfoots

The mystery witness was rushed into the grand jury roomThursday. But a law enforcement source tells the Voice Palladino exaggerated. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the witness, a porter at the nearby AirTran building, testified he heard someone say "police department" then heard a shot followed by another shot. That's it.

Though the witness ultimately didn't provide the Perry Mason moment police had hoped for, his sudden appearance sent some community activists and politicians into a tizzy.

"It appears to me there may be unnamed parties who are eager to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of justice," Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks announced. "This last-minute episode has all the earmarks of a provocation and a maneuver to delay, if not disrupt, the grand jury process."

New Rat City by M. Wartella
New Rat City by M. Wartella

Apparently, the disruptions had little effect. On Friday, a decision was reached. Brown tried to embargo it until Monday morning, but within a half hour it had been leaked.

Oliver and undercover detective Gescard Isnora, who fired 11 times, were indicted for manslaughter, and detective Marc Cooper, who shot four times, was indicted for reckless endangerment. Two other officers, who fired four other shots, were not indicted.

At the Baisley Park Gardens houses in Jamaica where Bell hung out and Guzman and Benefield live, folks broke out the champagne after hearing the news Friday. But that may be the extent of the celebrating. If indicting cops is difficult, convicting them is even tougher.

Officer Bryan Conroy, who was convicted in December 2005 of criminally negligent homicide for shooting Ousmane Zongo after a chase inside a Chelsea storage facility, is the rare exception. But even in that case the judge ultimately gave Conroy only five years probation, saying the real problem was lack of police training.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former prosecutor, says the biggest obstacle the Bell prosecutors have to overcome is, absent obvious malice, the fact that "most people don't want police officers to be criminally prosecuted.

"You have people at work, doing their jobs and it appears there's an absence of malice," O'Donnell says. "It's a mistake; it's not malice. So you're asking a jury to unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that their actions were so unreasonable that they should be punished criminally. It's virtually impossible."

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