A video and transcripts released by the NYPD show a Crown Heights man brandishing a metal object at people on the street before being fatally shot by police on Wednesday.
The death of 34-year-old Saheed Vassell, who officials say suffered from mental health problems, will be investigated by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Vassell was shot and killed by four officers who were responding to at least three 911 calls of a man “pointing what is described as a silver firearm at people on the street,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said.
Police released transcripts of three 911 calls on Thursday along with a 49-second video of Vassell, from three vantage points on buildings, pointing a metal pipe object at several people on the street.
“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,” one caller said, according to the NYPD’s transcript.
The last seconds of the video showed Vassell at the corner of Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street suddenly stopping and raising the object in his hand, at which point police fired at him, officials noted in the video, which did not have any audio.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday called the shooting death a “tragedy by any measure.
“The investigation has just begun,” said de Blasio, who emphasized that “people in the community thought he had a weapon and was aiming it at residents.”
In Wednesday’s shooting, Monahan said Vassell took “a two-handed shooting stance” at the approaching officers. The four officers fired about 10 rounds.
The officers were not wearing body cameras at the time, he added.
Schneiderman’s office is invoking an executive order that gives him the ability to take over cases in which an unarmed civilian is killed by a law enforcement officer, or where there are significant questions as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous.
“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office.
The mayor, who took questions Thursday at the Queensbridge Houses in Queens, acknowledged that Vassell’s family has spoken of his “mental health challenge,” although 911 dispatchers weren’t informed of any such history when initially contacted, nor was Vassell on medication.
“Everyone wants to understand what happened in what sequence,” the mayor said. It’s “not a garden-variety situation.
“It’s a tragedy because a man with a profound mental health problem, from what we understand so far, was doing something that people perceived to be a threat to the safety of others,” the mayor said.
“There’s a lot more we need to know.”
The mayor suggested that the shooting could have been avoided if Vassell had received professional help.
“These tragedies can be averted if we get people the help they need,” he said, and urged family members to “pick up the phone” to access the city’s health services.
“I can’t replay history . . . but a man like this, if he had gotten the help he needed, hopefully would never have been in the situation where such a horrible, painful tragedy would’ve occurred,” de Blasio said.
A police source said Vassell had 23 prior arrests, including for assault in 2003 and robbery in 2005, and at least one contact with police where he was described as being emotionally disturbed. He also had 120 summonses, but it wasn’t immediately clear what the citations were for.
With Matthew Chayes and Anthony M. DeStefano