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No civil rights charges for NY cops in Bell shooting

Three New York police officers who killed an unarmed man in a 50-shot barrage outside a strip club hours before his wedding will not face civil rights charges, federal authorities said yesterday.

The parents and former fiancee of Sean Bell, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, had lobbied federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to charge the officers with violating Bell's civil rights.

"After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the law enforcement personnel who fired at Bell (and two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield) acted willfully," the Justice Department said in statement. "Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed."

U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell met with Bell's family members yesterday to tell them. At a news conference at Sharpton's headquarters in Harlem later yesterday, Guzman, Benefield and Bell's fiance, Nicole Paultre Bell, said they were disappointed but would continue to demand that the officers be fired and the city held accountable through a pending wrongful death lawsuit.

"It's not the first time I've been let down," Paultre Bell said. "It's happening all over again."

Asked about insufficient evidence, Guzman responded, "Fifty shots on a New York City street. I seen it. I was there."

An attorney for one of the New York Police Department officers called it "the right decision."

Accusing the officers of federal crimes after a state court acquittal "would have been a real stretch," said the lawyer, James Culleton. "Everyone should move on."

Bell, a 23-year-old black man, was killed and his friends were seriously injured outside Kalua Cabaret in Queens in 2006 as they were leaving his bachelor party by car. The officers, all undercover detectives, had been investigating reports of prostitution at the club.

Police suspected someone in Bell's vehicle was armed, but no weapon was found in Bell's car.

The shooting sparked community outrage and accusations that the New York Police Department was too quick to use excessive force against minorities.

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