The NYPD said officers responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun on Wednesday fatally shot Vassell, but later said he was carrying a metal pipe that had been mistaken for a firearm.
Vassell's father, Eric, said police acted too quickly and need better training, but admits he can see how the surveillance picture of him holding the pipe may have caused panic.
New video and 911 call transcript excerpts from yesterday’s police involved shooting in #Brooklyn. NYPD received several calls from neighborhood residents about a man pointing a gun at people on the street.— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 5, 2018
View yesterday’s remarks by @NYPDChiefofDept: https://t.co/yW8E6o6JGj pic.twitter.com/jw1FNoi7Ob
"Police had a choice, they always have a choice," he said. "They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life."
He said his son was bipolar, but not on medication. He doesn't know why he had that pipe but said he sometimes worked as a welder.
Lorna Vassell, his mother, is furious with police.
"I'm really angry," she told Eyewitness News reporter Derick Waller. "I'm really upset, because police did not have to shoot my son down like that."
Vassell's aunt, Nora Ford, echoed those remarks.
"I feel like I could kill them myself," Ford said. "That's how angry I am. They took one of my family."
Vassell was well-known to everyone on Utica Avenue.
He was known for struggling with mental health issues. People say he was harmless, and that the police should have known that too.
His death sent tensions high with officers on the scene in Crown Heights.
"Shoot me too," one resident said. "And officer, stop murdering our people. How's that sound?"
"He don't trouble nobody, but he always do this, like he's shooting and all that," another said. "Maybe that's why they do all that shooting? I don't know. But they shouldn't shoot him for no reason at all."
Neighborhood residents say Vassell would go to the store for you if you asked him. At most, they say he would ask for a quarter or a cigarette.
His cousin said he leaves behind a teenage son.
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