Cops in fatal shooting of Saheed Vassell will not be charged, attorney general says

Attorney General Letitia James will not seek criminal charges against the NYPD officers in the fatal shooting of Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights.

The decision comes nearly a year after Vassell, 34, was shot multiple times by four officers who were responding to reports of a man brandishing what appeared to be a gun at passersby. Vassell was actually holding a welding torch.

In a report released Friday by James’ Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit, investigators said they did not find adequate evidence to warrant charges against the officers.

Vassell’s father, who met with James before her decision was announced on Friday, said he was "saddened and disappointed" by the outcome.

"It is heartbreaking that once again, the criminal justice system is treating police as if they are above the law, and failing to hold them accountable for killing an unarmed black man," Eric Vassell said in a statement Friday.

The report also outlined two recommendations: "comprehensive" critical incident training for 911 operators and police dispatchers and a review of the NYPD’s policies and practices that determine what information is released to the public in police-involved shooting cases.

“The death of Saheed Vassell was a tragedy, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones,” James said in a statement Friday. “The Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit is committed to providing thorough and transparent investigations. We urge the New York Police Department to implement our recommendations."

The state investigation was triggered via a 2015 executive order that allows New York’s attorney general to assert jurisdiction over cases in which an unarmed civilian is killed by a law enforcement officer or if there are significant questions over whether the civilian was armed and dangerous.

Vassell was diagnosed as bipolar, according to medical records reviewed by SIPU. His death sparked outrage in the Crown Heights community where Vassell was well known as a fixture of the neighborhood.

As the attorney general’s office continued its investigation, Vassell’s family and advocates against police brutality repeatedly called on the NYPD to release more information as well as unedited surveillance footage that captured the shooting and the events leading up to it.

The NYPD had released 911 transcripts and a compilation video that shows Vassell on April 4, 2018, pointing a silver object at people on the street as if it was a gun. The video ends when police arrive and Vassell is seen taking a two-handed stance as he turns and points the welding torch at them.

In their report, SIPU investigators note that while the 911 callers said they weren’t completely sure whether the object Vassell was brandishing was a gun, officers on patrol in the area received information from dispatchers that was "less equivocal." Based on the information they were given, the officers indicated they were responding to a "firearm job," according to the report.

The NYPD has also come under fire for leaking Vassell’s arrest record to the media as well as its response to a situation involving a person with a mental illness. However, the report concluded that none of the dispatchers or responding officers knew that Vassell was bipolar.