Officers responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun in Crown Heights Wednesday fatally shot 34-year-old Saheed Vassell, who was carrying a metal pipe that was mistaken for a firearm, police said
Vassell was taken in critical condition to Kings County Hospital, where he died.
The incident happened on Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue just before 5 p.m. According to NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, police received 911 calls about a man pointing what was described as a silver firearm at people on the street. Video showed him approaching passersby and pointing the pipe at them in a threatening manner, simulating a firearm.
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
"The suspect took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers," Monahan said.
Related: Saheed Vassell's parents: Police did not have to shoot our son
Four officers discharged their weapons, firing a total of 10 shots and striking the suspect. The object he was holding turned out to be a pipe with some sort of knob on the end of it.
On Thursday evening, Crown Heights Community Members marched to demand NYPD accountability and systemic changes Vassell was shot and killed:
The NYPD released a photo of the pipe:
"This was not an EDP call, this was not an emotionally disturbed call, this was a call of a man pointing what 911 calls people felt was a gun at people on the street," Monahan said. "When we encounter him, he turns with what appears to be a gun at the officers. We have to stay straight to the facts of this incident today."
The New York State Attorney General's Office announced it will investigate the incident.
"The Attorney General's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit has opened an investigation into the death of Saheed Vassell," press secretary Amy Spitalnick said in a statement. "We're committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation."
An executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed the attorney general as special prosecutor to oversee investigations into incidents where unarmed civilians die during interactions with police or incidents where there is significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous.
Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that Vassell's family spoke of his "profound mental health problem," urging families with similar concerns to seek professional help. While he stressed the investigation is in its infancy, he noted several times that police officers responding to a reportedly armed person have to make split-second decisions, and earlier intervention could have averted tragedy.
Trying to find an officer familiar with Vassell "in that moment of emergency" was "already very, very late in the trajectory," he said.
Vassell had 23 prior arrests, including a 2003 assault for biting his ex-girlfriend's hand and punching her, a 2005 robbery, and a 1999 gang assault. Four other arrests involved gun charges. He had been issued 120 summonses and had a history of mental health interactions, including at least one contact with police where he was described as being emotionally disturbed.
After the police shooting, dozens of police cars converged on the area and a crowd of about 200 people gathered around the cordoned-off intersection. Some people in the crowd shouted at police.
One officer suffered minor injuries.
Watch the NYPD press conference on the shooting:
Following the shooting, there was a hostile crowd at the scene.
"I seen the police car (come) in, police jump out and pop, pop, pop, pop," one witness said. "They didn't say 'freeze,' 'stop,' do anything, 'put your hands up,' nothing. Straight gunfire come out the gun."
People in the area say Vassell was a fixture in the neighborhood, known to be mentally ill but generally harmless.
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