Magazine article The New Yorker

Fronting

Magazine article The New Yorker

Fronting

Article excerpt

The sixth day of the Sean Bell trial, which is under way in Kew Gardens, turned on sorting the real from the imaginary, or the imagined, in the muddle of events that claimed Bell's life in the early hours of November 25, 2006, and upon which hang the fates of three N.Y.P.D. vice detectives. Two of them, Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver, are charged with manslaughter, and the third, Marc Cooper, is charged with reckless endangerment. The facts in the case are yielding--one major figure is referred to, in testimony, as "the S.U.V. guy"; another, as "the guy in the White Sox hat"--and fraught: fifty shots; no return fire; Bell dead, outside a strip bar called Club Kalua, on the day he was to be married. The case, which is being heard by Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, may come down to two issues: did Bell and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, say they had a gun, and did the detectives identify themselves as police officers before shooting?

It is a case in which what was said between two groups who have often not understood each other--the police and young black men (although, in this instance, two of the police are young black men)--is crucial. Lawyers parsed the lexicons of both factions, giving the proceedings the feel of one long, sad municipal-street-life vocabulary drill.

"Do you know what I mean when I refer to a 'light truck'?" Oliver's attorney, James Culleton, asked Lieutenant Michael Wheeler, one of the first officers to respond to the 10-10 (shots fired) call.

Wheeler replied, "Something that would give artificial light to an area so that people could do their work."

Other key words: "Voucher," v., to register evidence by filling out a special form. "Scrip," n., police-talk for "description." "Critical," adj., "It means that his life was in danger and he could die from his injuries," the paramedic who attended to Joseph Guzman testified, when asked to define the word. (Guzman was shot sixteen times.)

Earlier, Hispolito Sanchez, a grave, muscle-bound detective who was part of the botched sting at Club Kalua, took the stand. The day before, he had described witnessing a heated confrontation outside the bar--Bell and Guzman vs. "the S.U.V. guy"--that led him to believe that Bell and Guzman were armed. "Bell said, 'Let's fuck them up,' " Sanchez testified. "Guzman said, 'Yo, go get my gun.' "

On redirect, the prosecutor, Charles Testagrossa, homed in on another term:

TESTAGROSSA: Have you ever heard of the expression "fronting"? …

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