Saheed Vassell, 34, was fatally shot by police in Brooklyn today after the officers allegedly mistook a metal pipe he was holding for a gun. Officers were responding to 911 calls in the area when they encountered Vassell at the corner of Utica Ave. and Montgomery St. in the Crown Heights area, New York Daily News reported. Police officials said they shot him after he pointed an object in their direction. Protests are already being reported in the area in response to the shooting. The shooting happened just two weeks after Stephon Clark was fatally shot in his own back yard in Sacramento, and Louisiana officials declined in late March to charge two Baton Rouge police officers in the shooting of Alton Sterling. Here’s what you need to know about Saheed Vassell.
1. Saheed Vassell Was Shot After He Pointed a Metal Pipe at the Officers
Three 911 calls were made around 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday, from people who said that a black man wearing a brown leather jacket was waving a silver gun at people. During a press conference, police officials said, “Three different 911 calls described a man with a gun pointing it at people on the street. There is video … that shows a man brandishing what appears to be a firearm and pointing it at people.” One of the callers said they thought he was trying to fire the gun.
The photo above is one of two screenshots from surveillance footage. During a press conference, police said this photo was taken seconds before police shot Vassell.
When the police reached the street corner where the man was seen, Vassell was standing there, pointing a metal object at them. NYPD Chief of Department Terrence Monahan said during a press conference: “The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers.”
Monahan said the object was a “pipe with some sort of knob.” Here is a photo of that object, which some observers have said looks like a shower head. Police have not verified this:
Police later released a video showing Vassell pointing the pipe at people on the street and then pointing the pipe at police right before the shooting. You can watch the video below, which also includes excerpts from the 911 calls:
2. Four Police Officers Shot at Vassell 10 Times
Four police officers — one in uniform and three in plainclothes — fired 10 shots at Vassell around 4:45 p.m., and he was hit multiple times. (During a press conference, police said that there was an additional uniformed officer at the scene who did not fire.) He was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he later died.
Jaccpot Hinds told The New York Times that he was walking on Utica Avenue when an unmarked police car passed him. A plainclothes officer shot at the man several time in the neck, chest, and right arm, Hinds said.
Chris J. told New York Daily News that he thought he was hearing firecrackers at first. It was one shot, and “then it was nonstop after that.” He said a plainclothes officer handcuffed Vassell as he was lying on the sidewalk, not moving. “They put him on his back and they tried to compress his chest but he was gone.”
Hinds said he also saw the officer who fired trying to resuscitate Vassell. They put him on an ambulance about five minutes later.
A clerk at Chucky Fresh Market on 414 Utica Ave. said that one of the bullets shattered a window at the store.
3. Police Were Not Wearing Body Cams, But Have Multiple Videos from the Scene
Monahan said that none of the officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting. However, security footage from the area did pick up some of what happened. The security footage has not been released, but police did share screenshots from the surveillance footage. During the press conference, the police showed a screenshot from one of the surveillance cameras, showing a blurry image of what appears to be a male pointing an object at a civilian.
During the press conference, Monahan emphasized that the call was about a man carrying a gun, not about a mentally disturbed individual. When they encountered Vassell, he turned right away and pointed what appeared to be a gun at them, he said.
The investigation is still ongoing.
4. Vassell Was Known in the Neighborhood as ‘Quirky’ But Not Violent, According to Witnesses
Chris J. told New York Daily News that Vassell was well known in that neighborhood as a quirky, but not violent guy. He said: “He’s a little touched in the head. But he’s not crazy enough to go around hitting people.”
Hinds told The New York Times that Vassell was well-known and often spent time at the corner of the intersection where he was shot.
Andrew Wilson told New York Daily News that he’d known Vassell for 20 years. He said that Vassell would walk around the neighborhood carrying an orange Bible or a rosary, and he would sometimes talk to himself, but he never caused problems for anyone. He said the officers in the neighborhood knew Vassell. “Everybody just knows he’s just mentally challenged. This shouldn’t have happened at all.”
Mavitza Burgos wrote on a public Facebook post that the cops were wrong and there was no way Vassell was a violent person. “Everytime I saw you with my kids you would tell my son listen to your momma boyn my son would laugh n you would give him a high five.”
One person, @AchmatX, wrote on Twitter that the shooting was a result of gentrification in the area. “Everyone in the community knew Saheed Vassell. When we tell you gentrification is violence this is just another example. The same white gentrifiers calling the police on Black men smoking weed in Harlem, called the police on Saheed.”
Vassell had been arrested 17 times, mostly for domestic violence related issues, New York Daily News reported. At this time, additional background on those arrests is not known.
One person wrote on Twitter in response to the report of 17 arrests, saying that she knew Vassell and he “was not at all troublesome and never bothered anyone.”
Vassell’s father, Eric Vassell, told New York Daily News that his son was bipolar and hadn’t taken his medication for years. “I saw him this morning. He was the same.”
5. His Son Said That Vassell Was Always Laughing and Cared for Everybody
Vassell was originally from Jamaica and had a 15-year-old son, Tyshawn, New York Daily News reported. Tyshawn told the Daily News that he was still trying to process what had happened. Tyshawn said his dad was always there for him, no matter what, often calling him to check up on how he was doing. “He cared for everybody. If you saw him, he’d always be in a laughing mood. You would never catch him down.”
People from the area are angry about Vassell’s shooting, and protests began quickly. Dean Meminger, a reporter and anchor for NY1, reported that a crowd of people were very upset and disputing the police department’s version of what happened. Shay Horse, a photojournalist in the New York area, wrote that people quickly began protesting, but the crowds calmed about an hour ago.
U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Representative for New York District 9, wrote on Facebook in response to the shooting: “This afternoon Saheed Vassell was shot and killed in Crown Heights. I am shocked and angered by this news. My deepest condolences are with Saheed’s family, friends, and our community. My staff and I are closely monitoring this situation and I expect answers. #SaheedVassell#SayHisName #BLM”
A protest has been organized for Thursday, April 5 starting at 7 p.m. Eastern at Utica Ave. and Montgomery St. The details read: “Join us as we demand justice for Saheed Vassell. Black Lives Matter!”
This is a developing story.