An unarmed man killed in his car on his wedding day by police officers who unleashed a 50-shot barrage was drunk behind the wheel, law enforcement officials said Friday.
It was unclear whether the finding — contained in a toxicology report turned over to prosecutors — would have any bearing on a potential criminal case against the officers. But it reconfirmed that alcohol was an element of a case already complicated by much ballistic evidence, conflicting eyewitness accounts and community outrage.
Law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed, said Sean Bell’s blood had tested well above the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit in New York. One put his reading at “double the legal limit.”
Victim's lawyer calls report ‘irrelevant’
A police union official suggested Friday that Bell’s intoxication could bolster the officers’ defense. But a lawyer for the victim’s family dismissed the finding as “totally irrelevant.”
Bell “is a victim,” said the attorney, Sanford Rubenstein. “No matter what his blood-alcohol level was, he’s a victim.”
Bell, 23, was killed the morning of Nov. 25 after his bachelor party at Kalua Cabaret. Union representatives and lawyers for the officers have said their clients were convinced that Bell and his friends were going to retrieve a gun from his car to settle a dispute.
When one of the officers approached the car, it lurched forward and bumped him, then twice rammed into an unmarked police minivan as the bullets flew until the vehicle stopped, police said.
The toxicology findings on Bell “gives us a little insight into why he acted the way he did” by trying to drive away, said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “Obviously, his judgment and decision-making were impaired by alcohol.”
Blood tests were conducted on Bell’s two friends, who were also unarmed and injured, but those results have not been revealed.
Officers also had drinks
Alcohol also was a potential issue for police: The officers were part of a team conducting an undercover vice operation at a Queens strip club, and police officials said two undercover officers working inside — including one of the shooters — were allowed to have two drinks each. Police officials have insisted a supervisor at the scene afterward found them fit for duty. It is unclear whether the officers were given blood tests.
The two survivors have disputed union officials’ and lawyers’ claims that the first officer to shoot had identified himself as a policeman and ordered the victims to stop before he opened fire. The pair also have denied reports that there may have been a fourth person in the car who fled with a pistol.
The victims in the shooting were black; the officers were white, black and Hispanic.