A federal judge has ruled that a civil lawsuit against five police officers in the fatal shooting of Sean Bell can forward to trial.
In the May 19 hearing — on what would have been Bell’s 27th birthday — Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ruled against New York City’s delay of the lawsuit pending an internal investigation, the New York Times reported.
“I’m unimpressed,” Johnson told attorneys representing both sides. “I’m lifting the stay, and we will proceed.”
Bell, who was 23, was killed in 2006 after he and two friends left a Queens strip club. He died when the car he was in was fired upon by five undercover police officers after one of the officers was reportedly struck on the leg by the car; 50 bullets struck the vehicles. Authorities said the officers thought the men were armed. Bell was supposed to be married later that day.
The case has been emotionally and racially charged and it spotlighted issues surrounding excessive force by police on unarmed black men. Since the shooting, police procedures have reportedly been revised.
The lawsuit was filed by the two friends with Bell in the car, Bell’s family and fiancee in 2007. The suit, which has been delayed for three years, accuses the officers of wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations.
A conference to discuss possible settlement has been scheduled for July 20.
Three of the officers were acquitted of manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges in 2008. The judge in that case cited changing testimony of witnesses, criminal backgrounds and the fact that Bell was legally drunk when he attempted to leave the club and struck one of the detectives in the leg.
In February of this year, the U.S. Justice Department rejected a civil rights charges against the officer due to insufficient evidence.