George Bell, who was charged with a double homicide in 1999, is suing New York City and eight NYPD officers for $50 million in damages after being released from prison last year when a state judge in Queens threw out his conviction.
In 1996, a shop owner was opening his check-cashing store on Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst when he was shot and killed along with his security guard, an off-duty NYPD officer. A manhunt pursued the killers immediately, which kicked off the alleged wrongdoing in the case against Bell, according to his attorney, Richard Emery.
In the 75-page complaint against the city, Emery described the search for the killers as racially motivated. According to Emery, Bell — a black man — never fit the description of the suspects in the case. Additionally, police officers used aggressive interrogation tactics and perhaps worst of all, the Queens District Attorney’s office withheld exculpatory evidence.
“This was a time of the mid-’90s of high crime in New York City. [Mayor Rudy] Giuliani had gotten into office on a policing platform,” Emery said. “There was a lot of rush to judgment, especially with Black men who were presumed to be guilty when, in cases like this one, none of them were.”
Prosecutors never turned over police reports showing that the killings were likely linked to others committed by a local gang. There were also five witness accounts not turned over to the defense that contradicted the men’s confessions, which Emery argued were coerced.
“In the complaint, we have a whole series of cases that we site showing a pattern of short-circuiting due process in the Queens DA’s office — most of it affected Black men. If it wasn’t directly motivated in a malicious way there were certainly racial stereotypes and biases that were implemented as a systemic matter in the Queens DA’s office.”
The complaint also alleged eight police officers named in the suit knocked Bell to the floor, tore out his hair and threatened to put him in “a f**ing hospital.”
Bell, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, was one of three men convicted and sentenced to between 50 years and life in prison for the two murders. After spending 24 years in prison, Bell now lives on Long Island with his fiancée.
“He is living very peacefully and well,” Emery said. “His family is helping him in every way possible. He’s lost 24 years and his fiancée stood by him through this whole period. George desperately wants to be a father but seems to have lost that opportunity. He is haunted by this every day. He’s lost more than half his life.”
NYPD refused to comment on the pending litigation. The Queens DA did not respond to a request for comment.