NEW YORK -- Police opened fire early yesterday on three men in a car driving away from a bachelor party at a strip club, killing the groom on his wedding day. The shooting occurred after an undercover officer was rammed by the car, investigators said.
Fifty rounds were fired, hitting the vehicle 21 times, police said. Several officers were injured in the incident, none seriously.
The shooting happened just after 4 a.m. in the Jamaica section of Queens near the Kalua Cabaret strip club.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the incident stemmed from an undercover operation inside the club. He said it was too early to say whether the shooting was justified.
Kelly said the car also rammed an unmarked police minivan. Seven officers in plain clothes were involved, five of whom fired.
The groom was identified as Sean Bell, 23, of Queens, the father of two young children. Two others in the car, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, both of Queens, were taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital. One of the wounded men was listed in critical condition, and the other was stable.
Kelly said there may have been a fourth person in the car who fled.
Abraham Kamara, 38, who lives a few blocks from the club, said he was getting ready for work at about 4 a.m. when he heard bursts of gunfire. "First it was like four shots," he said. "And then it was like pop-pop-pop."
A grand jury investigation was ordered. Kelly said none of the officers who discharged weapons had been involved in previous police shootings. He has not been able to interview the officers because the district attorney must first complete an investigation, he said.
The shooting drew angry protests from family members and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton went to the hospitals where the men were taken and afterward held news conferences. At Jamaica Hospital, the civil rights advocate stood with about two dozen members of Bell's and his fiancee's family.
"I will stand with this family," he said. "This stinks. Something about the story being told did not seem right."
Sharpton said Bell and his fiancee had two children, 3 years old and 5 months old.
At Mary Immaculate Hospital, Sharpton said he was outraged to find the survivors handcuffed to their hospital beds. He said Guzman suffered 17 wounds, though it was unclear how many were bullet wounds, and Benefield was shot three times.
Sharpton also said no weapons were found in the car. "We're not anti-police . . . we're anti-police brutality," he said.
Robert Porter, who identified himself as Bell's first cousin, said he was supposed to be a DJ at the wedding. He said about 250 people were invited and were flying in from all over the country. He said his cousin wasn't the type to confront police and that he was "on the straight and narrow."
"I still don't want to believe it," Porter said. "A beautiful day like this, and he was going to have a beautiful wedding. He was going to live forever with his wife and children, and this happened."
The Kalua Cabaret is next to an auto-body repair shop on a gritty block across from a Long Island Rail Road station. The club is housed on the first floor of a two-story brick building.
Juan Escobar, the building's owner, said the establishment has been there for about four years. "All the time, we have problems," he said. "Once in a while police come."