I've gathered myself long to think of this situation intellectually rather than reflexively -- to give my anger some direction. And I'd like to point out a rather interesting coincidence after examining some things.

First, examine the Associated Press story (byline given to Tom Hays and Pat Milton). Note the line where they quote their source:

'Law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed, said Bell's blood had tested well above the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit in New York. One put his reading at "double the legal limit."'

My curiosity was piqued by the how the source was named "Law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity." In subsequent stories on the toxicology report, the head of the Detectives Endowment Association denies up and down that he or the DEA are the source. That may or may not be true, but we can at least conclude that Palladino's denial shows that he does not want this leak to stick to him or the Detectives Endowment -- which says to me that Palladino at least knows this is dirty business to be getting involved in.

Nevertheless, tracing the exact source Hays and Milton are using is unimportant; "off the record" sources are a staple of all journalism. What is important is how and why Hays and Milton are getting used to spin this story. So I've done a search on Lexis-Nexis to look at how many times "officials" who speak "on condition of anonymity" turn up in their stories. A pattern emerges:


* November 28: "Bloomberg meets with family of shooting victim at their church"

'Lawyers representing four of the five shooting officers have contacted prosecutors and "expressed a willingness to cooperate with the investigation and the grand jury," a law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed. A grand jury could get the case as early as next week, the official said.'


* November 30: "2 mystery witnesses could be key in NYC shooting probe":

'According to an undercover officer, the other witness the man in black argued with Bell and his companions as they exited a Queen strip club where Bell was having a bachelor party. The officer was part of a vice team investigating complaints about prostitution and drug dealing at the club.

'Outside the club, the man in black reached into his pocket as if he had a weapon as Bell challenged him to a fight and one of Bell's companions, Joseph Guzman, said, "Yo, get my gun," the officials said, citing the undercover detective's account. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation has not been completed.

'The officials said the exchange prompted a second undercover detective to follow Bell and three other men as they walked away toward their car, apparently suspecting the men meant to arm themselves and attack the man in black.'


* December 1: "Police locate potential mystery witness in NYPD 50-shot slay"

'A man suspected of fleeing with a gun after a fatal police shooting has been located, though his lawyer said Friday that his client was unarmed and was not directly involved in the incident that set off a storm of outrage in New York City.

'Police said clues gathered during a raid on a Queens home suggested that the man, identified by his lawyer as 27-year-old Jean Nelson, was with three men on Saturday moments before officers fired 50 bullets at their car.

'The first officer to open fire has claimed he believed there was a gun in the car. No weapon was found, but police union officials have suggested a fourth man fled with one.

'Nelson, who was detained on Thursday but released, was an eyewitness to the shooting, said his attorney, Charlie King. However, he "did not have a gun, nor was he in the car as police have suggested," the lawyer added.

'A law enforcement official said Friday that investigators had not ruled out Nelson as being the fourth person. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.'


* December 2: "Search for witnesses to shooting raises anger on the streets"

'Police said earlier this week that clues gathered during a raid on a Queens apartment known for drug dealing indicated that one witness, identified as 27-year-old Jean Nelson, may have been with the victims before the shooting.

'A law enforcement official said on Friday that investigators have taken statements from civilian witnesses that put a fourth man, possibly Nelson, near the car the time of the shooting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

'Nelson, who was detained Thursday but released, was an eyewitness to the shooting and claims police fired without warning, said Charlie King, his attorney. However, he "did not have a gun, nor was he in the car as police have suggested," the lawyer added.'


Notice how the anonymous "law enforcement official" source yammered on the infamous "fourth man"? According to the December 11 New York Times review of the preliminary report on the incident:

'[The preliminary report] includes no meaningful discussion of a fourth man, a mysterious figure who some in the Police Department have suggested may have been present along with the three men who were shot. None of the witnesses whose accounts are in the report speaks of someone who may have fled -- perhaps possessing a gun -- and there are no indications that the police at the time were seeking anyone who may have left the scene.'

Let's make a hypothesis here: the anonymous "law enforcement official" has been the same person since the beginning. I'll admit that my supporting evidence is completely circumstantial, but let's just say that reporters tend to be creatures of habit: they'll go to the same source (anonymous or known) on certain topics. That's just the economy of journalism.

If my hypothesis holds up, and the same anonymous source has been feeding Hays and Milton all along, notice how this official has had specially privileged access to documents that are before the grand jury: the statements on the fourth man, which weren't included in the preliminary report the New York Times received because they only come from the killer cops themselves; and now the toxicology report on Sean Bell. And note too, how the law enforcement official consistently leaks information that favors the killer cops.

If my hypothesis holds up, then there are a number of scenarios that are driving the leaks. To list a few:

1. Meddling from a Police "Union": The strange thing to note here is how much the "anonymous law enforcement" source's stories coincide with the stories being told by the "unions" representing patrolmen, sergeants, detectives and lieutenants (fourth man, how much Sean Bell was a threat). It would be relatively easy for some union to have a member loyal enough to the union to make photocopies of the reports, and have the union's press staff leak it.

2. Bureaucratic Turf-War between Internal Affairs Bureau and the Queens District Attorney: In a NYPD police shooting, the investigation is always twofold: there is the borough/county District Attorney's investigation (for criminal charges) and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau investigation (for disciplinary charges). However a part of the same system, these two bodies have different sets of institutional interests. The DA's office have an explicit political mandate to carry out. The IAB, on the other hand, are known as "the dark side" -- and their mandate is driven by the police brass. Commissioner Ray Kelly's been feeling the heat as of late, and it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that a few of his guys on the IAB know that they'll be in the sights of a housecleaning should the shit hit the fan on this. Their approach would likely be to try to impede the criminal investigation, to blunt the political impact, and so that IAB gets the credit when the officers are disciplined.

3. Queens District Attorney Taking a (Political) Dive: Conversely, if one looks at the political battle over the Sean Bell shooting, the forces condemning the shooting are Rev. Sharpton and Councilman Charles Barron -- two forces who have clashed repeatedly with the Democratic political machine of Queens, with Sharpton having extensive links to the Bronx political machine and Charles Barron having his links to the Brooklyn political machine. For its part, the Queens Democratic machine's politics are heavily influenced by the cop "unions". With an election for Queens District Attorney coming in 2007, would Queens D.A. Richard Brown not be tempted to tow the Queens Democratic machine's line, avoid making trouble with the police unions and make the Bell case disappear, using the leaks as potential cover?

4. Duplicity by the Bloomberg administration: Yes, the Bloomberg administration has made a big show of standing beside Rev. Sharpton and co. and calling the shooting "excessive." But as has been shown by the transit strike, his public image and his actual policy can be very at odds (you'll recall that Bloomberg made a big deal out of calling the transit union "thuggish" -- even though reports later surfaced that he was negotiating in secret). The former head of a media giant knows better than anyone else that image counts more than anything; so could it not be feasible that his administration, while overtly appalled by the shooting, could be covertly behind a media campaign to get the police off the hook?

I'll repeat that these are all hypotheses as to what's happening on the other end of the curtain. The fact is, we don't know for sure what's going on. We do know that a group of pigs murdered Sean Bell -- and perhaps that's all that matters to the community.