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Indictment: NYPD groom shooting was manslaughter

Story Highlights

NEW: Two NYPD officers plead not guilty to manslaughter indictment
• Third officer pleads not guilty to reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor
• Slain groom Sean Bell's family, wounded friends attend arraignment
• Bell, unarmed, was gunned down by police hours before his wedding
From Katy Byron
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Two detectives with the New York City Police Department were charged Monday with felony manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black man on his wedding day.

A third detective was charged with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.

All three officers pleaded not guilty at an afternoon arraignment attended by members of the slain man's family as well as two of his friends, who were wounded in the 50-shot barrage.

The officers surrendered Monday morning to internal affairs investigators. They are to return to court on April 11. (Watch how the grand jury found that the shots were intentionally fired Video)

Detective Michael Oliver, who allegedly fired 31 shots and reloaded, is charged in an indictment with manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment.

Detective Gescard Isnora, who allegedly fired 11 times, faces the same charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. Bail was set at 250,000 bond or $100,000 cash.

Detective Marc Cooper, who allegedly fired four shots, was charged with reckless endangerment, which carries a maximum one-year jail sentence. He was released without bail.

Two other officers investigated by the grand jury were not charged. All five were suspended without pay.

A grand jury reviewed some 500 exhibits and deliberated for three days before returning the eight-count indictment, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

"This is only the beginning of this case," he added. "This case has got to be tried in an open courtroom and all of the facts and all of the law will be available to all of you as you watch this trial proceed."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, representing the family of the Sean Bell, deceased groom, said: "These were officers of the law, operating under the cover of the law, and had the ability beyond what a normal citizen would have, and they in our judgment and clearly as certified by this grand jury, used that privilege to engage in criminal activity."

He added that Bell's family members were satisfied with the grand jury's decision and believed that all five officers should have been charged.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a written statement: "Nothing anyone can do will bring back Sean Bell. But we can resolve to learn what lessons we can from this tragedy."

"This is the initial step in the criminal justice process," defense attorney Philip Karasyk told CNN. "This is just the beginning."

Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, took issue with the grand jury's action. "I respect their decision, but I strongly disagree with their decision to indict these officers," he said. "I do not think the actions of the officers rise to the level of criminality."

Bell, 23, and friends Joseph Guzman, 31, and Trent Benefield, 23, were at Bell's bachelor party at the Club Kalua, a strip club, in the early morning of November 25. The shooting, just hours before Bell's wedding, ignited outrage in the city, as well as allegations of racism and and a trigger-happy police force. (Watch a crowd clamor for indictments Video)

The three officers and two others were working undercover at the club, investigating complaints of prostitution, police and union officials said.

Guzman, Benefield and other members of the bachelor party claim they were on their way home after the party when the officers began firing without provocation.

The officers assert through their lawyers that Bell and his friends, who had argued with another patron, were retrieving a gun from a parked car when police encountered them outside the club.

When one of the officers approached Bell's car, it lurched forward and bumped the officer, then twice rammed an unmarked police minivan, prompting the officers to open fire, the NYPD says.

The officers fired a total of 50 shots. Benefield, Guzman and Bell were seriously wounded, and Bell later died at a hospital.

The men who were shot were not armed. All five officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the district attorney's office.

The incident brought cries of police racism. Bell was black, as are his two wounded friends. Three of the officers are black; the other two are white. All five officers were placed on administrative leave.

Sharpton, who has been acting as a spokesman for the families, has called the indictments an important step against police violence.

CNN's Richard Davis and Allen Chernoff contributed to this report

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