The $3.25-million settlement announced late Tuesday in a suit over the police killing of Sean Bell in 2006 was the largest ever in a wrongful death case involving a police shooting in New York City, the lawyer for his family said at a news conference Wednesday.
The Bell settlement in the Brooklyn federal court case topped recoveries by Amadou Diallo ($3 million), Ousmane Zongo ($3 million) and Patrick Dorismond ($2 million), three other men who died in notorious police shooting cases in the city.
"This is the most paid," said lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, accompanied at the news conference by Nicole Paultre Bell, Bell's fiancee, who will administer the money for the benefit of their two young daughters.
Although Bell's employment history didn't support a high recovery for lost wages, Rubenstein said his damages were elevated because he had two young daughters entitled to compensation for losing their father. Survivors of police abuse - such as Abner Louima, who got $7.125 million - frequently receive more than death cases because they are able to collect for post-incident pain and suffering.
Bell, 23, was shot in his car in November 2006, just hours before his wedding, after leaving a Queens nightclub with two friends. Police, who were acquitted at a criminal trial, said they believed someone in the car had a gun. But no gun was found.
In addition to the $3.25 million for Bell's estate, his two passengers also settled their claims. Joseph Guzman, who was shot 11 times, will get $3 million and Trent Benefield, shot three times, will get $900,000. Rubenstein, who represented all the victims, said Guzman's damages were bigger because his permanent injuries were more severe.
Paultre Bell, who said the family is pushing for legislation in Albany to try to prevent future police shootings, called the settlement "reasonable" financially but not enough for her daughters. "Nothing can replace their father," she said.
Michael Hardy, Rubenstein's co-counsel, said the case was a tragedy for the victims and the cops, and pointed the finger of blame at the traffic in illegal weapons. "It was the fear of a gun," he said, "the imagining of a gun, that led to this tragedy."