NYPD releases video, 911 calls to defend shooting of pipe-wielding black suspect

In an effort to calm growing anger and heated street protests, New York City police on Thursday released several security videos and 911 transcripts from the harrowing minutes leading up to officers' decision to fatally shoot a mentally ill black suspect in Brooklyn.

The videos appeared to support the NYPD's claims that the man on Wednesday evening was repeatedly thrusting a metal object that looked like a gun into the faces of several people — including a woman holding the hand of her child.

One clip shows the man holding the object in what police described as a "two-handed shooting stance" as officers arrived.

Four plainclothes and two uniformed officers responded, unleashing 10 shots that left Saheed Vassell, 34, dead. The city's medical examiner found he was hit seven to nine times, including one shot to the head.

His weapon turned out to be an L-shaped section of pipe, which several 911 callers had told operators resembled a firearm.

The shooting prompted two nights of protests among many who felt police should have known that Vassell, a fixture in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, had emotional problems.

People react to the news after police officers shot and killed a man in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in New York, while responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Protesters suggested the police shooting of a pipe-wielding Brooklyn man this week was murder.  (Associated Press)

On Thursday night, protesters marched to NYPD’s 71st precinct and demanded the release of the names of the officers involved in the shooting -- and their badges.

“They need to lose their jobs and they need to be put in jail – the same as if someone kills a cop,” Ramel Johnson, 38, told The Guardian. “It’s become clear they have no respect for human life.”

Demonstrators gather to protest the killing of Saheed Vassell by New York Police Department officers in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RC15074A8600

Protesters were undeterred Thursday night by the release of video confirming that the slain suspect was behaving in a threatening manner.  (Reuters)

But Mayor Bill De Blasio didn't blame the cops, and said they had no information that the person they were confronting was mentally ill.


"It's a tragedy because a man with a profound mental health problem ... was doing something that people perceived to be a threat to the safety of others," de Blasio said at a news conference.

Protesters gather to call for justice for Saheed Vassell, Thursday April 5, 2018, in New York. Police seeking to defend their killing of Vassell, a man they mistakenly believed was armed with a gun, released videotape on Thursday showing him brandishing a metal object like a weapon and provided excerpts of 911 calls reporting a man threatening people with a pistol. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Protesters quickly blamed the police and said the officer-involved shooting was unnecessary.  (Associated Press)

"What we have seen from the images that are publicly available, people in the community thought he had a weapon and was aiming it at residents," the mayor said. "That's the kind of calls, multiple calls, that NYPD received."

According to the released transcripts, one caller to 911 reported that Vassell "looks like he's crazy but he's pointing something at people that looks like a gun."

"Where is the gun?" a dispatcher asked.

"His hand," the caller replied.

This photo provided by the New York Police Department shows a metal object at the scene where police officers fatally shot a man who was reported to be threatening people with a gun, which turned out to be a metal pipe that police mistook for a firearm, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Saheed Vassell, 34, was killed Wednesday April 5, 2018, in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. According to The New York Times, police had encountered him before and classified him as emotionally disturbed. (New York Police Department via AP)

Police said the slain suspect pointed this pipe at officers in a threatening manner before being killed.  (Associated Press)

In police radio traffic posted online, dispatchers directing officers to the scene said 911 callers were reporting only that a person was pointing a gun at people. After the shooting, the officers can be heard frantically calling for dispatchers to send an ambulance.


The material released by the department didn't answer questions about whether the officers had identified themselves or ordered the victim to drop the object before they opened fire. 

At a vigil Thursday night, Vassell's mother, Lorna, said her son "came from a good home" and that he was not homeless.

"He was like a child. ... This kid didn't bother nobody."

- Family friend Berrest Biggs

Vassell's father, Eric, told reporters that his son had been hospitalized several times for psychiatric problems, some involving encounters with the police, but that he was polite and kind.

"Police had a choice. They always have a choice. They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life," Eric Vassell told WABC-TV.

People react to the news after police officers shot and killed a man in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in New York, while responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

The slain suspect accosted numerous people before apparently threatening officers, surveillance footage shows.  (Associated Press)

A tense crowd gathered after the shooting, with some people shouting at officers and decrying the killing as another example of an unarmed black man dying at the hands of police officers who overreacted.

A family friend, Berrest Biggs, said he learned of the shooting through social media.

"I said, 'Is that Saheed?'" Biggs said. "He was like a child. ... This kid didn't bother nobody."

New York state's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced that he would investigate the shooting.

Under an executive order issued by the governor in 2015, the attorney general has the power to act as a special prosecutor in cases involving police killings of unarmed people.

Schneiderman's spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick, promised "an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.