Unarmed black man fatally shot by NYPD had long rap sheet, once arrested without pants and eating rocks: report

A man shot and killed by an NYPD officer Wednesday evening reportedly had a long rap sheet, including one incident in 2008 where officers found him on the street without pants, eating rocks.

Saheed Vassell, a 34-year-old whose family describes him as having bipolar disorder, was killed in a Crown Heights neighborhood after police responded to multiple 911 calls about a black male walking around the area and pointing an object at people.

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People respond to the fatal shooting of Saheed Vassell.  (Reuters )

Vassell had reportedly been arrested 28 times since 1999, including one bizarre incident in 2008 when officers found him on the street, sans pants, the New York Post reported. A source told the New York Post that Vassell was running on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in boxer shorts before he laid down in the street, “banging his head on the pavement and eating rocks.”

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Vassell was taken in for psychiatric treatment following the incident. The source also said Vassell was hospitalized in 2011 when his mother alerted police after her son refused to take his medication, adding he was acting erratically. She called police again in 2014 to inform them her son wouldn't take his medication. It was not immediately clear if he was taken to a psychiatric facility following the call.

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)

This photo shows the metal object police mistook for a firearm.  (AP)

The 34-year-old's rap sheet includes a first-degree gang assault charge, possession of a firearm and a few assault charges. He was also arrested for armed robbery, grand larceny, criminal mischief, driving without a license and disorderly conduct. The last time he was arrested was in 2013 for assault.

Vassell was not sentenced to time in state prison for any of the charges.

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His shooting has sparked anger aimed at the NYPD. The department released several security videos and 911 transcripts from the minutes leading up to the officers’ decision to fatally shoot Vassell. The videos appeared to support NYPD claims that Vassell 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. The weapon turned out to be an L-shaped section of pipe.

“There must be a way to save this person than to kill them,” his father, Eric, told the New York Post. “Aren’t the police trained how to defend [themselves] and prevent killing a mental person?”  

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. The city's medical examiner found Vassell was struck by bullets seven to nine times, including one shot to the head.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.