New York State’s top prosecutor is investigating the city’s Police Department after officers shot and killed an unarmed black man wielding a metal pipe like a gun in Crown Heights on Wednesday.
“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation,” District Attorney Eric Schneiderman said on Twitter on Thursday morning.
The day before, four officers fired 10 shots at 34-year-old Saheed Vassell around 4:40 pm after the man assumed a “two-handed shooting stance” with the pipe on Utica Avenue near Montgomery Street, according to the Police Department’s Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who spoke at a press conference hours after the shooting.
A total of five cops, including two in uniform, rushed to the scene after three separate 911 callers told authorities that Vassell — who doctors at Kings County Hospital pronounced dead following the shooting — threatened passersby with a silver firearm that officers later discovered was a shower head, according to officials.
Surveillance footage police released on Thursday afternoon shows Vassell approach people on the street — including pedestrians who appear to be two men, as well as a woman and child — and point the piece of metal at them as if it were a firearm.
The video clip ends with Vassell brandishing the shower head like a pistol at something off screen — which authorities claimed were the responding officers, who then opened fire.
Police also released partial transcripts of the 911 calls related to the incident, in which two people are quoted describing a man pointing what appeared to be a gun at pedestrians.
“There’s a guy walking around the street, he looks like he’s crazy, but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun, and he’s like popping it as if like he’s pulling the trigger,” one caller said, according to cops.
Officers also said a 911 dispatcher told them that the callers reported a man aiming a gun at passersby.
“Firearm job at, ah, Utica and Empire Boulevard, that’s Utica and Empire Boulevard. Caller states a male was pointing a gun at people,” police quoted the dispatcher as saying.
Authorities, however, did not warn Vassell before they shot at him, according to one eyewitness, who compared the shooting to a “hit” in a New York Daily News report.
“The just hopped out of the car. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” Jaccpot Hinds told the Daily News.
And Vassell’s father told the New York Times that his Jamaican-born son suffers from bipolar disorder, claiming he spent time in and out of hospitals for treatment of the condition in the past few years. The younger Vassell’s mental disability was allegedly well known by both his neighbors and local police, according to the Times report.
Schneiderman’s announcement of the state probe led by attorneys in his Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit came shortly after a Crown Heights state Senator called for an investigation into the fatal shooting — which occurred on the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — amid demands for better policing from activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“As a society, we have to make the Black Lives Matter message clear on our streets,” Hamilton said in a statement. “We should demand quality police work.”
Vassell’s death came weeks after cops killed an unarmed black California man, whom they mistook as carrying a gun when responding to alleged reports of vandalism, shooting him to death in his backyard.
But Monahan defended the actions of his boys in blue, claiming they were told by witnesses to expect an armed suspect.
“This was not an emotionally-disturbed call, this was a call of a man pointing what 911 callers and people felt was a gun at people on the street,” he said. “When we encountered him, he pointed what appeared to be a gun at the officers. We have to stay straight on the facts of this incident.”
Locals will stage a vigil for Vassell at Union Avenue and Montgomery Street today at 4:40 pm — the time police gave for the deadly shooting — which will be followed by a rally protesting racially motivated police violence at 6 pm.
©2018 Community News Group
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