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New York police release video of man pointing object before fatal shooting

The New York City Police Department released surveillance video Thursday of a man, later fatally shot by police, poin...

Posted: Apr 6, 2018 1:23 AM
Updated: Apr 6, 2018 1:23 AM

The New York City Police Department released surveillance video Thursday of a man, later fatally shot by police, pointing a silver object at residents as if he were brandishing a gun.

The video also shows 911 call transcripts of neighborhood residents who reported the man to police.

On Wednesday, police shot and killed the black man, identified as Saheed Vassell, in Brooklyn after he pointed what authorities said officers believed was a gun at them.

After the shooting, officers discovered that the object was "a pipe with some sort of knob on it," Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan said at a news conference.

Vassell's death comes amid a resurgence of questions about law enforcement's unequal treatment of people of color following another police shooting recently in Sacramento, California. Police there said they thought Stephon Clark had a gun, but only a cell phone was found near his body.

In transcripts released Thursday by New York police, 911 callers appeared uncertain about what object Vassell was holding.

"There is a guy in a brown jacket walking around pointing -- I don't know, (to someone else) what is he pointing in people's face? They say it's a gun, it's silver," one caller said, according to a police transcript.

"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 if he's pulling the trigger," another caller said.

A third caller said the man is holding a gun.

New York's attorney general opened an investigation Thursday morning into Vassell's death, said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

"We're committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation," she told CNN.

By state law, the attorney general is appointed as a special prosecutor to oversee investigations into and prosecute matters related to incidents in which unarmed civilians die during interactions with police or incidents in which there is significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous, Spitalnick said, citing the law.

'Two-handed shooting stance'

The incident started shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday when officers received 911 calls of a man aiming what callers described as a silver firearm at people in Brooklyn, Monahan said.

"Three different 911 callers described a man with a gun, pointing it at people on the streets," he said.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found a man matching the description provided by the callers, Monahan said.

"The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers, two of whom were in uniform," he said.

Four officers discharged their weapons, striking the man, Monahan said. Then they gave him first aid and called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"It appears we fired 10 rounds between the four officers," Monahan said. The unidentified officers, who were not wearing body cameras, discovered the metal pipe at the scene.

'He's polite ... kind'

Brooklyn resident Eric Vassell told CNN affiliate NY1 that the victim was his 35-year-old son, Saheed.

Saheed Vassell had no access to guns and suffered from bipolar disorder, his father told the station.

"He's polite, nice, he's kind. He just comes and he goes," his father said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he received a preliminary briefing on the shooting.

Renewed calls for police reform

Public fury over the shooting deaths of people of color by law enforcement, which gained traction through the Black Lives Matter movement, swelled again last month after police in Sacramento killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed, African-American father.

In light of Clark's killing, which sparked weeks of protests, California lawmakers have proposed a drastic change that would limit the scenarios in which police officers can use deadly force. The bill would replace the "reasonable force" rule with a stricter "necessary force" standard.

The proposal also would establish that a homicide by an officer is "not justified if the officer's gross negligence contributed to making the force 'necessary,'" according to the proposal.

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