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Settlement reached in Sean Bell civil case

July 28, 2010 3:57:18 AM PDT
The city of New York has agreed to pay more than $7 million to settle a civil lawsuit in the Sean Bell case. Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, left the courthouse and said that, despite the settlement, she's not yet ready to put the police shooting behind her.

"No amount of money will ever provide closure," she said. "There's no amount of money equal the pain that my family and his family have felt."

The settlement filed in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday pays $3.25 million to the estate of Sean Bell, who was killed in 2006 outside a strip club in Queens while leaving his bachelor party. As part of the settlement, the city agreed to pay $3 million to Joseph Guzman and $900,000 to Trent Benefield, both of whom were wounded in the shooting.

The head of the NYPD detectives union called the deal as an "absolute joke," but the move settles one of the most racially charged cases in the city's recent history.

"It's a matter of time before this happens again, with the police doing the shooting and getting away with it again," Guzman said after the settlement.

The unarmed men faced a 50-bullet barrage of police gunfire. Guzman and Benefield were shot multiple times, while Bell was fatally wounded.

"That's what's important now. The focus on the reforms that are needed so what happened to these victims never happens to anyone else in this city," Sanford Rubenstein, Bell's family attorney, said.

The lawsuit had accused the city of wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations.

"We hope that all parties can find some measure of closure by this settlement," the city's attorney, Michael A. Cardozo, said in a statement.

Three police officers were acquitted of manslaughter and other charges in 2008. Federal authorities in February declined to bring civil rights charges against them.

The officers remain on modified duty and are facing departmental charges that could result in their dismissal.

The Bell settlement follows other multimillion-dollar payouts in high-profile civil lawsuits involving the police department.

In June, the city agreed to pay a record for a civil rights lawsuits when it agreed to settle for $9.9 million with Barry Gibbs, an innocent man who spent 19 years in prison after being framed by a police detective.

In 2001, the city and police union agreed to pay $8.7 million to Abner Louima, who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick in a police precinct by officers. After legal fees, Louima was left with about $5.8 million.

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Some information from The Associated Press

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