Investigators searching for answers

By Tom Hays The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg met yesterday with the family of the man who was killed on his wedding day in a barrage of police gunfire as he left his bachelor party, and investigators questioned a third civilian witness.

Three days after the fatal encounter, it remained unclear why four detectives and one police officer opened fire while conducting an undercover operation at a strip club.

The unidentified witness was on a darkened block in Queens when five police officers killed 23-year-old Sean Bell and injured two friends as the three sat inside a car, officials said.

There are two other civilian witnesses: One woman on the street who says she saw officers firing their weapons, and a second woman who from her window spotted a man running away from the area around the time of the shooting. Investigators are trying to determine if that man had been with the three who were shot.

Yesterday, Bloomberg went to the Bell family’s Queens church, where he met for about an hour with the parents and fiancee of the victim, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. The mayor then met at a restaurant with about 50 community leaders.

The mayor held a similar meeting Monday at City Hall in which he declared that officers appeared to use “excessive force” when Bell was killed hours before his wedding. He stood by his comments yesterday.

“I am a civilian. I am not a professional law enforcement officer,” he said. “I used the word excessive and that’s fine. That was my personal opinion. It may turn out to be that it was not excessive.”

Councilman James Sanders Jr. of Queens said he warned Bloomberg about possible unrest.

“I alerted the mayor that the temperature on the streets has increased to a large degree,” he said. “While we are sitting in these meetings, a lot of people are out on the streets.”

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said some tension was inevitable because of “the nature of what police departments do – we arrest people, we give them summonses, we’re the bearers of bad news, we use force and sometimes we use deadly force.”