Source AP ©

Witness in case of NYC police shooting accused of assault

A key witness in the case against three police officers was charged on Wednesday with beating up the mother of his child.

Trent Benefield, 24, was arraigned on attempted assault, harassment and other misdemeanor charges before being released without bail and ordered to return to court on Oct. 10. If convicted, he faces up to 90 days in jail.

Afterward, his lawyer accused police of fabricating the case.

"If it were not for the fact he was witness and victim in high-profile case ... we would not have been here for this arraignment," said the attorney, Sanford Rubenstein.

Plainclothes officers patrolling Queens on Tuesday night claim they spotted Benefield quarreling with the woman as he sat in his car and she stood outside.

At one point, Benefield reached through the car window and punched her in the face, then struck her with the car door, police said. After getting out of the vehicle, he slapped her and grabbed her throat, they added.

The officers allege Benefield told them the two were arguing and there was no need to "deal with this," according to court papers. He also said he "had no problem with the police," the papers said.

Benefield was with Sean Bell when Bell was gunned down on Nov. 25, 2006, just hours before his wedding, as he left his bachelor party. The shooters were conducting an undercover operation into alleged prostitution at the Kalua Cabaret in Queens, where the party was held.

According to police union officials and defense lawyers, the undercover officers believed Bell, Benefield and a third man, Joseph Guzman, were going to get a gun. The officers started shooting after a car lurched forward, bumped Detective Gescard Isnora and slammed into an unmarked police minivan, authorities said.

Isnora, through his attorney, has said he pulled his gun and identified himself as a police officer before spotting one of the men inside the car making a suspicious move.

Isnora squeezed off 11 shots, Marc Cooper fired four times and Michael Oliver fired 31 shots - including the one that killed Bell. Benefield and Guzman survived serious wounds, and have since claimed the officers fired without warning.

Oliver and Isnora have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges, and Cooper not guilty to reckless endangerment. A trial is scheduled to begin in January.