As the parents of Saheed Vassell laid their son to rest Friday morning, the devastated family continued to demand more police transparency and accountability.
Vassell’s friends and family gathered around 10 a.m. for a private funeral at St. Anthony’s Baptist Church on Utica Avenue, near Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights.
The church is located just steps away from where Vassell, 34, was fatally shot by four officers on April 4, his death touching off a storm of backlash over how the NYPD interacts with the Crown Heights community.
Police had responded to the corner of Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue on a chilly Wednesday afternoon after several 911 calls reporting a man who appeared to be pointing a gun at pedestrians on the street. Vassell, who was actually holding a metal pipe, was shot 10 times.
After the funeral, Vassell’s parents released a joint statement reiterating their demands that police release the names of the officers who killed their son as well as their misconduct histories.
“We are devastated by the murder of Saheed because he should still be with us instead of having his life stolen by NYPD officers who killed him in a hail of at least 10 bullets in broad daylight, wrongly claiming he had a gun when he did not,” Eric and Lorna Vassell said. “While we mourn, we maintain our demands of the city that Mayor [Bill] de Blasio has failed to fulfill: real and comprehensive transparency that can help ensure accountability for Saheed’s death.”
The family alleges that police officers arriving on the scene immediately opened fire on Vassell, who was bipolar and not on medication, without warning.
Police have released the transcripts of 911 calls reporting Vassell’s actions and later released surveillance videos showing the man running up to people on the street and using the metal pipe as an imitation gun, pointing it into one pedestrian’s chest and at a small child.
But Vassell’s family and several community leaders contend the NYPD is selectively releasing video and images of the incident to smear Vassell, who has no way to defend himself from the grave.
“We condemn the NYPD’s propaganda campaign that has sought to justify the murder of Saheed by placing all of the focus on him,” the grieving parents said. “The de Blasio administration must be transparent about these officers’ misconduct histories, and they must release all video of officers’ actions immediately before, during and after the killing.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, under an executive order, has launched an investigation into the shooting and will decide whether the officers should face charges in Vassell’s death. The NYPD, meanwhile, has launched its own investigation into the officers’ actions.