- New York City police officers fatally shot a man in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
- The NYPD said the officers had responded to reports of a man threatening people with a gun – and when they arrived they mistook the metal pipe he was carrying for a firearm.
- Residents of the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn told local media that the man was a well-known figure, both to locals and the police, and was mentally ill.
- The shooting comes just weeks after police in Sacramento, California, fatally shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who was unarmed and carrying only a cellphone.
New York City police officers responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun on Wednesday fatally shot an unarmed black man carrying a metal pipe, mistaking it for a firearm, police said.
It happened just before 5 p.m. in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after three 911 callers said a “man was pointing a silver firearm at people on the street,” according to NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.
Five officers, three in plainclothes and two in uniform, responded and encountered a man matching the description in the 911 calls.
“The suspect took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers, two of whom were in uniform, said Monahan.
Four of the officers then fired a total of 10 rounds, striking the man, who was later found to be holding a “pipe with some sort of knob at the end,” he said.
The man was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Four officers were treated for minor injuries.
Dozens of police cars converged on the area, and a crowd of about 200 people gathered around the cordoned-off intersection, said 33-year-old resident Shaya Tenenbaum, who added that a few people in the crowd shouted at police.
‘He’s harmless … a good guy’
The NYPD has not yet identified the man, but The New York Times reported that the man’s father identified him as 34-year-old Saheed Vassell, who had bipolar disorder and had multiple previous encounters with police in recent years.
Vassell would “just walk around the neighborhood and help people,” his father, Eric Vassell, told The Times.
Crown Heights residents also told the newspaper that Vassell could often be seen doing odd jobs for local businesses or begging for money in a nearby subway station.
They added that he was a caring father and a friendly man who loved to dance, and often picked up items from the street such as lighters and empty bottles.
“He’s harmless,” 45-year-old Rocky Brown, who said he knew Vassell for years, told The Times. “A very willing guy, a very nice guy, a good guy.”
Andre Wilson, 38, told the Daily News that he has known the victim for 20 years, describing him as a quirky neighborhood character.
“All he did was just walk around the neighborhood,” he said. “He speaks to himself, usually he has an orange Bible or a rosary in his hand. He never had a problem with anyone.”
Wilson said he was shocked that it would come to this.
“The officers from the neighborhood, they know him. He has no issue with violence. Everybody just knows he’s just mentally challenged. This shouldn’t have happened at all.”
The shooting comes after the police killing of an unarmed black man on March 18 in Sacramento, California, sparked two weeks of protests and calls for police reform.
Stephon Clark, 22, was shot by officers responding to a report of someone breaking car windows. Police said they thought he had a gun, but he was carrying only a cellphone.
In a private autopsy commissioned by Clark’s family, prominent pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu announced that Clark was hit by eight bullets – six in the back, one in the neck and one in the thigh – and took three to 10 minutes to die. Police waited about five minutes before rendering medical aid.