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‘The dude is shooting like he's crazy’

Police Shooting
Witness Joseph Guzman, who still has four bullets in his body, arrives at court on Tuesday to testify in the trial of three New York Police detectives charged in the 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell.Ellis Kaplan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The burly witness unbuttoned his shirt to show the circular scar on his right shoulder.

The wound marked one of the 16 shots that hit Joseph Guzman during a barrage of 50 police bullets that killed his friend Sean Bell, who was unarmed and hours away from getting married.

With four bullets still in his body, Guzman sat in the witness stand Tuesday and belittled the undercover officer he accused of starting it all.

"This dude is shooting like he's crazy, like he's out of his mind," Guzman testified at the Queens trial of three undercover officers charged in Bell's slaying outside a topless bar on Nov. 25, 2006.

Guzman, 32, was referring to Detective Gescard Isnora. The key prosecution witness insisted that, contrary to police accounts, Isnora, 29, "appeared out of nowhere" with a silver gun drawn and never identified himself as a police officer.

Guzman recalled locking eyes with Isnora. Around the same time, he said, an unmarked police van collided with a car driven by Bell and shots rang out.

"That's all there was — gunfire," he said. "There wasn't nothing else."

'I love you'
Guzman, seated in the front passenger seat, was hit 16 times from the neck down. Four bullets were never removed.

When the shooting stopped, Guzman said, he tried to comfort the wounded Bell, telling him, "I love you." He said Bell whispered "I love you" back. Then, he said, his longtime friend "stopped moving."

Prosecutors have portrayed Isnora and two other detectives, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, as reckless cowboys who were poorly prepared for an undercover operation targeting prostitution at the strip club where Bell was hosting a bachelor party.

Isnora and Oliver have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Cooper has pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment.

The detectives, wearing street clothes and trying to blend in with club patrons, say they became concerned after witnessing an argument outside the club between a belligerent Bell and the driver of an SUV who appeared to be armed. The officers say they then overheard Guzman say to someone, "Yo, go get my gun."

Isnora tailed Bell, Guzman and another buddy, Trent Benefield, on foot. The detective confronted the men as they headed for their car, suspecting they might be retrieving a weapon.

He told a grand jury he identified himself as a police officer and was the first to open fire after Guzman made a sudden move and Bell bumped him with his car while trying to pull away.

Peacemaker claim
On Tuesday, Guzman said he, too, believed the SUV driver was armed because the man put his hand in his right coat pocket and told Bell's group, "I don't fight no more."

But Guzman also said he played the role of peacemaker outside the club, telling the SUV driver no one wanted trouble. He also denied saying anything about having a gun because he didn't have one that night.

"Where I'm from, that's not a good bluff," he said, raising his voice in one of several heated exchanges with defense attorney Anthony Ricco. "I don't know where you come from."

He later mocked Ricco for questioning his claim that Bell's car never bumped Isnora, saying, "It's not rocket science, man."

Ricco suggested that Guzman's combative demeanor on the stand was "exactly what was going on in front of that club."

The trial continues.