Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Monday, December 11, 2006

Shades of Diallo: Have you seen the mystery man?

The New York Times received a copy of the New York Police Department’s preliminary investigative report into its fatal shooting of Sean Bell, 23, and noticed that one very important detail was missing in eyewitness accounts as well as in the report itself.

If you guessed that it was the so-called fourth man, who was the focus of an intensive dragnet in Queens, you are correct.

Neither the mystery man in black, nor the one wearing a beige coat who was allegedly seen fleeing the scene of the shooting purportedly with a gun are discussed in great detail in the 23-page preliminary report. The report of a mystery man had originated with comments made by Michael Palladino, who is president of the Detectives' Endowment Association and then soon after, was also related by police representatives, who had attributed these accounts to several eyewitnesses.

preliminary investigative report

This mystery man was the subject of a catch and release operation involving young Black men conducted by the department’s (cough) Internal Affairs Division(cough) in Queens, which resulted in the detention of several individuals and the questioning of others. One individual, Jean Nelson, was detained as the definite mystery man but was later released. The department has been much more quiet on the topic ever since.

(excerpt from article)

It includes no meaningful discussion of a fourth man, a mysterious figure who some in the Police Department have suggested may have been present along with the three men who were shot. None of the witnesses whose accounts are in the report speaks of someone who may have fled — perhaps possessing a gun — and there are no indications that the police at the time were seeking anyone who may have left the scene.

It is not clear whether the witnesses who the department had cited as sources of the information involving the fleeing mystery men were among those whose interviews were included in this preliminary report. However, one would think if they had related such crucial information on this incident to the NYPD that it would not only be included, it would be prominantly placed in the report.

Queens’ District Attorney Richard E. Brown said that the preliminary report will be the starting point of his own investigation, in which the evidence produced will be taken to a criminal grand jury. It includes eyewitness accounts by civilians and statements by the law enforcement officers who were at the scene but did not fire their weapons. Only Brown's office will be able to interview the five involved officers.

Among the other items of notice included in this report was the revelation that after the 50 shots were fired, the involved officers told sergeants afterwards that they did not have any idea how many times they had fired their own weapons. One officer said that he was not aware if he had fired any bullets at all. That was the detective who had fired 31 times, emptying two magazines into Bell's vehicle. The undercover officer who had shot his gun 11 times had also emptied his own gun. The report also stated that this officer had consumed liquor earlier while inside the strip club but it didn't state what kind of liquor and how much. Another undercover officer said in his statement that he himself had consumed two beers.

Trent Benefield and Bell had both been handcuffed after the shooting despite suffering serious gunshot wounds. According to a statement given by Benefield, he had not known that the man who had initially opened fire on the vehicle was a police officer.


Mr. Benefield said a man he had not seen before stood in front of Mr. Bell’s car and simply opened fire, striking Mr. Guzman once, and that Mr. Bell then repeatedly drove forward and in reverse and collided with other vehicles in an attempt to drive away. His account differs from the accounts of some police officers that the detective opened fire after Mr. Bell’s car had struck him, crashed into a police van, and then nearly hit him a second time.

Lt. Jerry Napoli said in his statement that the three men in Bell’s vehicle knew that he was a police officer because he made eye contact with one of them. However, Napoli was unable to explain what exactly drove his assertion to investigators. He had spent the duration of the shooting hiding underneath the dashboard of one of the department's three vehicles as his charges shot at a group of unarmed men.

Reminscent of former Riverside Police Department sergeant, Gregory Preece who had stood by his squad car and watched as four of his charges with a combined work experience of 10 years shot 24 times at a Black woman in medical distress inside a car, and also at each other given that they were in a cross-fire situation. Preece was fired for his role in the incident, in July 1999.

When Preece arbitrated his employment termination, it was revealed that his performance evaluations had indicated that Preece had difficulty acting as a supervisor over the officers he had once viewed and perhaps still did, as his peers. In two cases, Preece had failed to report misconduct alleged against his officers to his supervisor. In one of those cases, two police officers were eventually prosecuted by the Riverside County District Attorney's office for assault under the color of authority after they along with another officer beat an intoxicated Latino man and tossed him in a lake. Both men plead guilty to those charges and received slaps on the wrist.

With this in mind and given Napoli's conduct during the incident, I wonder how his performance evaluations read in hindsight?

And so with that, the mystery behind the mystery man in black or wearing a beige jacket or hiding behind the grassy knoll continues.

In an exclusive interview with Essence magazine, Nichole Paultre, who was Sean's fiancee talks about how she had changed her legal name to match his, in a sense taking back something which had been stolen from her. A judge granted her request.


Nicole, the 22-year-old mother of the couple’s two young daughters, was overcome with emotion Thursday afternoon as she stared at the paper with her new name. As her mother and Jada looked on, she could barely contain her happiness. After Sean’s death, she said she had thought her chance to be Nicole Bell had been stripped from her forever.

"I was speechless," Nicole told ESSENCE of her reaction to the news. "It’s a great feeling. This is what we wanted. This is in honor of his name."

Sometimes it's through the smallest actions, that the families of those who have been shot and killed by police officers try to find some way to pull some order out of chaos into their lives. When Tyisha Miller was shot and killed by four Riverside Police Department officers in 1998, she had been attending continuation school to earn her high school degree. Her teachers spoke about how she was the first one to come to class each day, and the last student to leave. She was nearing completion of her degree when the shooting happened but the school ensured that her family would receive the certificate which documented her efforts. A high school diploma was given to her family members during one of the weekly demonstrations that took place during that long year. Her family smiled throught their tears having gotten a small piece of their daughter, sister, niece and cousin back.

The NAACP also held its first organized demonstration on Saturday, Dec. 9 as detailed in this Newsday article.

Hundreds of protesters marching four abreast, held signs stating that they were marching for justice, and yelled "no justice, no peace" and "50 shots, that's not hot".


The shooting has prompted continuing community outcry. At Saturday's demonstration, Tajuana Mcleod, 32, an accountant from Jamaica, held hands with her daughter Khayla, 7.

"I'm here because I have a teenage son," Mcleod said. "They shot in cold blood, and we don't want that to happen to anyone else."

The new Black Panther Party also held a march at the same time, and the two passed each other on the streets. This organization called for a 50 day boycott of businesses not owned by African-Americans. Two protest movements in conflict with one another as they had been in the 1960s and 1970s.

Hundreds demonstrate against shooting

The blogsphere is still humming with activity over the NYPD shooting.

Bill's Big Diamond Blog discusses both the demonstrations on Dec. 9 and the NYPD report discussed in the New York Times article. The shooting is also being discussed at R. Enochs and Robert's Rationale where there is a commentary on the logistics behind prosecuting law enforcement officers for onduty shootings.

This article at the Empire Zone is also taking more comments on the NYPD preliminary report into the Bell shooting.


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