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Saturday, March 1, 2008

NYPD Lieutenant's shocking recollection at Sean Bell trial

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS - Saturday, March 1st 2008

Lt. Gary Napoli, the supervisor of the undercover cops that killed Sean Bell, arrives at court in Queens Friday. He testified that he did not remember anyone on his team yelling 'Police!'

NYPD Detectives Gescard Isnora (r.) and Michael Oliver arriving in court Friday. They have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and reckless endangerment, respectively. The leader of the NYPD detectives who killed Sean Bell in a 50-bullet barrage testified Friday he didn't hear his men identify themselves as cops before they opened fire.

Lt. Gary Napoli, the hapless leader of the undercover unit that night, also said he "didn't see any badges" in plain view before the cops shot Bell on his wedding day.

"Did you hear any police commands?" prosecutor Charles Testagrossa asked. "No," Napoli said. "Did you ever hear any shouts, 'Police!' 'Don't move!" Testagrossa asked. "No," Napoli replied again.

The stunning admission came on the fourth day of the 50-shot trial, which began with Napoli being forced to identify accused detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper by name.

Then Napoli, who was not charged with a crime but has been accused of incompetence, gave his version of events that culminated with the death of the 23-year-old groom-to-be outside a seedy Queens strip joint on Nov. 25, 2006. Napoli's team was doing a sting at the Kalua Cabaret on 94th Ave., where Bell - a father of two - was having his bachelor party.

In earlier testimony, Napoli admitted the ill-fated operation was poorly planned but he was determined to make one more arrest so they could padlock the club. Two of the slain man's friends have said Bell exchanged angry words with a man identified as Fabio Coicou outside the club. They thought the other man was armed.

Napoli said he was sitting a block away in the passenger seat of an unmarked car when Isnora called him from outside the club and reported the escalating squabble. Seconds later, Isnora called again. This time, he sounded "frantic" and reported he was tailing Bell and his buddies Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield down Liverpool St. to Bell's car, Napoli said.

"It's getting hot," Isnora said, Napoli testified. "I need you here in a minute." Napoli said he radioed the other officers. "I know I yelled, 'Move in! Move in!' " he said. "I don't know if I gave them a specific area. At that point, the clock was moving fast."

Napoli said they quickly spotted Isnora, who gave three sharp head nods in the direction of Bell's car. When they pulled up beside Bell's car, Napoli said he reached under the dashboard to pick up a dome light. That's when, Napoli said, he heard the sounds of cars colliding - and gunfire.

Napoli said he didn't see any of his men shoot because he was looking down and that he crawled out of his car - with gun drawn - to avoid being hit. When the shooting stopped, Bell was dead, Guzman and Benefield were badly wounded, and the cops were stunned.

"There was almost like an eerie silence," Napoli said. "I yelled out, 'Has anyone been hit?' I heard voices saying, 'We're okay.' " Napoli said he walked over to Bell's bullet-riddled car, which smashed into an unmarked police van driven by Oliver, and ordered the men inside to show their hands.

"We were all in shock," Napoli said. "We thanked God that none of us was hit and we were going home." Defense lawyers claim cops went after Bell's car because they believed he'd gone there to get a gun so he could deal with Coicou.

They said Bell was drunk and rammed his car into the NYPD van. They said they opened fire because somebody inside Bell's car reached for a gun. No gun was found in Bell's car and Coicou also was unarmed. Bell's pals have denied police claims that somebody said, "Yo, go get my gun" before the shooting started.

Oliver, who fired 31 rounds, including the fatal shot, and Isnora, who fired 11 shots, have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Cooper, who fired four times, has pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment. The trial resumes Monday with testimony from some EMS workers.

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