NYPD releases video in fatal shooting of black man
New York – Police seeking to quell simmering anger over their shooting of a mentally disturbed black man on a New York City street released a montage of security videos Thursday that showed him minutes earlier thrusting a metal object that looked like a gun into the faces of several people – including a woman holding the hand of her child.
A final video snippet showed the man raising the object in a two-handed shooting stance as police arrived, the edited video frozen just before officers unleashed 10 shots that left 34-year-old Saheed Vassell dead. His weapon turned out to be nothing more than an L-shaped section of pipe.
The shooting in Brooklyn on Wednesday evening prompted protests among many who felt police should have known that Vassell, a fixture in the Crown Heights neighborhood, had emotional problems.
But Mayor Bill De Blasio didn’t lay blame on the officers, who were not from the local precinct and were passing through at the time. He said they had no information that the person they were confronting was mentally ill.
“It’s a tragedy because a man with a profound mental health problem … was doing something that people perceived to be a threat to the safety of others,” de Blasio said at a news conference shortly before the images and a partial transcript of 911 calls were released.
“What we have seen from the images that are publicly available, people in the community thought he had a weapon and was aiming it at residents,” the mayor said. “That’s the kind of calls, multiple calls, that NYPD received.”
According to the transcripts, one caller to 911 reported that Vassell “looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun.”
“Where is the gun?” a dispatcher asked one caller. “His hand,” the caller replied.
In police radio traffic posted online, dispatchers directing officers to the scene said 911 callers were reporting only that a person was pointing a gun at people. After the shooting, the officers can be heard telling dispatchers to send an ambulance.
The release of the edited material on the New York Police Department’s Twitter account was meant to back up claims by the police department that the four plainclothes and two uniformed officers who responded had a legitimate reason to believe they needed to move swiftly to stop a deadly threat.
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