The NYPD received multiple reports Wednesday of a man walking through Crown Heights, Brooklyn pointing what appeared to be a handgun at people. Five officers responded to the 911 calls. As NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan described the situation when they approached Saheed Vassell . . .
“The suspect took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers, two of whom were in uniform.”
Four of the officers sent a total of ten rounds at Vassell, killing him. The silver thing he’d been holding turned out to be a pipe with a knob on one end.
Vassell’s family reports that he was mentally ill.
Vassell’s father, Eric, told reporters after the shooting that his son was bipolar and wasn’t taking his medication, but was not dangerous and did not deserve to die. According to the father, Vassell had been hospitalized several times for psychiatric problems, some involving encounters with the police, but was polite and kind.
“Police had a choice. They always have a choice. They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life,” Eric Vassell said in an interview with WABC-TV.
While a father’s grief is certainly understandable, the fact is that police officers have to respond to threats in a fraction of a second. Training and muscle memory kick in when the brain doesn’t have the luxury of time to analyze a situation. They just have to hope and pray that their instincts were correct.
Fortunately for officers and the department, much of what Vassell was up to Wednesday afternoon was captured by surveillance cameras. Here’s the video they released:
Video surveillance appears to show Vassell doing what the callers describe: walking up to people on the sidewalk and pointing a metal object — whichwith a knob on the end — at people’s heads.
Near the end of the video, Vassell can be seen approaching an intersection and pointing the object toward the street. The image freezes and text states, “At this point, responding officers discharged their weapon.”
Given Vassell’s menacing moves toward passersby and how closely the pipe he was carrying resembles a pistol, it’s difficult to fault New York’s finest for responding as they did.
According to the New York Times, the NYPD had encountered Vassell before and classified him as emotionally disturbed.
The NYPD did not immediately answer CBS News’s questions about whether officers on the scene knew Vassell had a history of mental illness, nor about whether the department has increased or modified training since the 2013 fatal shooting of a mentally ill man near the Empire State Building.
The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Thursday that its Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit “has opened an investigation into the death of Saheed Vassell.”