New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the uproar over a deadly police shooting, saying bluntly that officers appeared to have used excessive force when they fired 50 shots at an unarmed man in a confrontation outside a strip club hours before his wedding.
"I can tell you that it is to me unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired, but that's up to the investigation to find out what really happened," Bloomberg said at a news conference on Monday after meeting with elected officials and community leaders including the Reverend Al Sharpton, a black civil rights leader, and Representative Charles Rangel.
The groom, Sean Bell, 23, was killed and two of his friends wounded early on Saturday after a bachelor party at the strip club. Suspecting that one of the men had a gun, police fired into the vehicle.
The men were unarmed.
In her first public comments on the shooting, Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre, told a radio station on Monday that the people who shot her husband shouldn't be called officers.
"They were murderers, murderers," she told hip-hop station Power 105.1.
"They were not officers. No one gives anyone the right to kill somebody," she said.
Sharpton called the conference of leaders a "very candid" meeting. He said the message to Bloomberg was: "This city must show moral outrage that 50 shots were fired on three unarmed men."
Some have also questioned whether the shooting was racially motivated because the victims were all black. The five officers who fired their guns included two blacks, two whites and one Hispanic.
Of the victims, Bloomberg said on Monday: "There is no evidence that they were doing anything wrong," referring to everything leading up to the moment they struck an officer with their car.
For a mayor to question the actions of the officers and defend the shooting victims -- while reaching out immediately to the grieving community -- sets a decidedly different tone than in the past.
Former mayor Rudy Giuliani was hounded for what some viewed as a slow response to the killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times in the Bronx by four white officers. They were later acquitted of criminal charges.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said that the groom was involved in an argument outside the club after 4am, and that one of his friends made a reference to a gun.
An undercover officer walked closely behind Bell and his friends as they headed for their car. As he walked toward the front of the vehicle, they drove forward -- striking him and an undercover police vehicle, Kelly said.
The officer who had followed the group on foot was apparently the first to open fire, Kelly said. One 12-year veteran fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines, Kelly said.
Bloomberg also said police appeared to have violated the policy stating that officers cannot shoot at a vehicle being used as a weapon if no other deadly force is involved.
The five officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.
Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, defended the officers' actions and said police were responding to the threat of the car.
"The amount of shots fired does not spell out excessive to me," Palladino said.
Bloomberg told reporters he did not believe the shooting was racially motivated but said "it's clear that people in this city do feel that they are sometimes stopped, frisked, whatever, based on their ethnicity," and he said his administration would work to prevent that.