The crime scene in New York City where police fatally shot Saheed Vassell, who was holding a pipe at the time of his death.

New York Daily News

NYPD fatally shoots Black man with mental illness—for holding a metal pipe

The community says local officers knew Saheed Vassell well enough to not respond by fatally shooting him.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Apr 5, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 7:29 pm CDT

New York police shot and killed 34-year-old Saheed Vassell, a Jamaica-born Black man known to live with mental illness, in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on Wednesday, after believing that the metal pipe Vassell was holding was a gun.

According to the New York Daily News, Vassell was waving a metal object at people walking by when cops responded to three 911 calls for a man waving a silver gun at people. When police arrived, Vassell took a “two-handed shooting stance” and pointed the pipe attached to a knob at them.

Four officers, three in street clothes and one in uniform, fired 10 shots at Vassell, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said at a press conference. Vassell was later taken to Kings County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, the New York Times reported.

On emergency radio, police are heard saying they’re on the scene at 4:42p.m. and calling for an ambulance 27 seconds later, though Monahan said they shot Vassell at 4:45p.m. NYPD did not clarify the timeline, the Daily News reported.

A witness to the shooting told reporters police had shot Vassell without warning, while others said Vassell and officers exchanged some words. NYPD refused to answer if officers warned Vassell before firing, and none of the officers involved wore body cameras. The names and races of the officers involved have not been released.

Vassell left behind his 15-year-old son Tyshawn, who described him as a caring father who was always there for him and others. Vassell’s father, Eric, 63, said his son lived with bipolar disorder but refused treatment and hadn’t taken his medication for years. Vassell’s father said he’d also been admitted to the hospital several times in recent years, sometimes after encountering police.

  • Community residents said Vassell was familiar on the corner, sometimes begging for money at a nearby subway station, or doing odd jobs and chores for shops around the area. He loved to dance, the Times reported, and was known to pick random things off ground and play with them like toys.

Following the Vassell’s fatal shooting, a clerk at a store on the corner of the shooting said that a crowd formed along the perimeter of the scene taped off by police, with community members expressing anger at police. One community member, John Fuller, told the Times that local police officers had known Vassell for years, and the officers involved should have known him well enough to not address the situation by fatally shooting him.

H/T the Root

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*First Published: Apr 5, 2018, 2:18 pm CDT