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.
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.”
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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.