BUFFALO, N.Y. — In announcing the indictment of a man charged with the attempted murders of five Buffalo police officers, the Erie County District Attorney also had some criticism for the way officers handled a police chase that led to the suspect's arrest back in March.
Kente Bell was the subject of what began as a traffic stop for tinted windows and an expired registration near the foot of West Ferry, and which turned into a wild police chase lasting 20 minutes, and traversing several city neighborhoods with Bell allegedly firing at police and police firing back.
Bell, who was shot by police three times at the end of the chase, faces up to 40 years to life behind bars, if convicted, in connection with the incident where three police officers also ended up shot.
While Bell is charged with firing at five officers, he's only charged with shooting one of them.
The other two officers were shot by fellow officers in what District Attorney John Flynn termed as friendly fire during a news conference on Wednesday following Bell's arraignment.
A wild scene
"There were at minimum approximately 14 shots fired by Mr. Bell in this entire incident," Flynn said. "Approximately 16 Buffalo Police officers fired their weapons in the course of this entire incident. The number of shots fired by police officers is numerous, and I can't put a number on that."
However, Flynn estimated that "80% of the shots fired" came when the chase ended on the East Side, where Bell crashed his vehicle.
Flynn says his office's investigation into the matter concluded that police were justified in using deadly physical force, and therefore no officer will face any criminal charges in connection with it.
But he also remarked that several officers appeared to have displayed a lack of common sense during parts of the incident.
A lack of 'common sense'
"There is no penal law violation that articulates common sense, and so I cannot charge any Buffalo Police officer with a violation of common sense," Flynn said. "I will leave that to (Buffalo Police) commissioner Gramaglia and let him handle that."
When asked by WGRZ if he was stating that police did not use common sense during the incident, Flynn replied, "I would say that common sense was not used," before citing some specific examples.
Flynn noted that in the initial stages of the chase, a woman inside Bell's vehicle jumped out; she was picked up by a trailing officer, who continued the pursuit with the woman inside.
"She was picked up by a police vehicle and kept in the back of the vehicle throughout the entire ride here. She went along for this joy ride here. That probably wasn't common sense," Flynn said.
Nor, says Flynn, were the actions of another officer who attempted what might be viewed as a rather bold maneuver to stop Bell and ended up winging (but not wounding) his own partner.
"He was a passenger in the car, and his partner, who was driving the car, was shooting out his front windshield, and part of the bullet ricocheted off the windshield and came back and struck him (the officer in the passenger seat) in the vest," Flynn said, in describing what sounds like a scene from an action movie.
Flynn also referenced how another officer was shot and wounded at the conclusion of the chase, and who was apparently caught in crossfire, which was possibly the result of the way police approached Bell's vehicle.
"Let's just say that the tactical maneuvers by the police, when they got out of their vehicles and encircled his (Bell's) car at the end, led to that police officer being struck. So the way that happened at the end, was probably not the best method," Flynn said.
"Through the entire incident, it is amazing no one else was hurt, or that there were no car accidents ... no pedestrians hit ... no one else shot. … It's amazing," Flynn said.
'Amazing no one else was hurt'
Whether officers need to be disciplined or retrained, Flynn says that's not a matter for him to decide, as he is only concerned with criminal charges, and reiterated that nothing was found to substantiate any criminal charges against any officers.
In response, a Buffalo Police spokesperson sent a statement, which read: "Buffalo Police will continue its internal probe, and now that the officers have been criminally cleared of any wrongdoing, the department will take the next steps as part of the internal review. The police department has also had to review over 120 body worn camera videos and anticipates releasing video by the end of the week."
Fallout in the probation department
According to Flynn, Bell was on felony probation, and as such it can be "safely presumed" that he was not a lawful gun owner with a permit, using a legally purchased and registered firearm.
Following the police chase, an Erie County probation officer and their supervisor were suspended without pay, concerning their supervision of Bell. Flynn says they were reportedly tipped that Bell was a felon in possession of a firearm a full month prior to the police chase where he's accused of firing at officers.