#SAHEEDVASSELL killed on 50th anniversary of MLK assassination
“It was almost like they did a hit”–witness
Rally planned for Thursday night
New York Daily News
Updated: Thursday, April 5, 2018, 3:21 AM
A bipolar Brooklyn man waving a metal object at passersby was fatally shot by police Wednesday when cops responding to 911 calls for a man with a gun said he “took a two-handed shooting stance” and pointed at them.
The man, identified by family members as Saheed Vassell, 34, was a Jamaica-born welder and the father of a teenage boy.
Police said they were responding to three 911 calls that came in around 4:40 p.m. about a black man wearing a brown jacket waving what people thought was a silver gun on the corner of Utica Ave. and Montgomery St., NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said at a press conference.
When the officers got to the street corner, Vassell turned to face them, aiming the object at them, Monahan said.
“The suspect then took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers,” the chief said, holding up a surveillance photo of a blurry figure standing next to a bodega ice machine with his arms outstretched.
Four officers — one in uniform, three in plainclothes — fired 10 shots, striking Vassell multiple times at about 4:45 p.m., Monahan said.
Police can be heard on emergency radio saying they were on scene at about 4:42 p.m. and 27 seconds later, officers were calling for an ambulance. The NYPD did not give an explanation when asked about that timeline.
No firearm was found at the scene — and police said Vassell had been holding a metal pipe with a knob on the end.
Jaccbot Hinds, 40, who witnessed the shooting said officers jumped out of their unmarked police car and fired without warning.
“They just hopped out of the car. It’s almost like they did a hit. They didn’t say please. They didn’t say put your hands up, nothing,” Hinds said.
The NYPD refused to say if the responding officers warned Vassell before firing.
Vassell was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he died.
None of the officers wore body cameras, Monahan said.
Bereft family members fought with security at Kings County Hospital after hospital staff refused to let them see Vassell’s body.
His 15-year-old son, Tyshawn, described him as a caring father who looked after him.
“He’s always been there for me no matter what,” Tyshawn said. “He’d always come check up on me, ask me if I’m good.”
He struggled to find the reason for the confrontation with police.
“He cared for everybody. If you saw him, he’d always be in a laughing mood. You would never catch him down,” Tyshawn said.
The shattered teen said he was still trying to process the news.
“This is what our society has come to,” he said.
Eric Vassell, 63, the slain man’s father, said that his son, who went to Wingate High School, struggled with bipolar disorder, but refused treatment.
“He hasn’t taken his medication for years,” the father said.
The elder Vassell said he used to fret about Saheed.
“We were always worried for him. We would say should anything happen to him, we just have to do what we can do,” he said.
He, too, struggled for answers Wednesday night.
“Why shoot to kill?” he said. “Are you so afraid that you have to take his life.”
Witnesses said the gunfire threw the afternoon into chaos.
“I heard all these shots, I thought it was firecrackers at first. I turned around and you just see the cops standing over the guy,” witness Chris J. said. “First it was one, then it was nonstop after that.”
The witness, who was sitting in a salon across the street, said a plainclothes officer handcuffed Vassell as he lay motionless on the sidewalk.
“Blood was everywhere,” Chris said. “They put him on his back and they tried to compress his chest but he was gone.”
One bullet shattered a window at Chucky Fresh Market at 414 Utica Ave.
“There were gunshots, and I just ducked,” said a clerk who declined to identify himself. “A minute later, cops were everywhere.”
After the shooting, an angry crowd formed at the edge of the police tape shouting at police and pointing out the officers they believed to be responsible.
“The whole community came outside,” he added. “People were going crazy. It was a nightmare out there.”
Vassell was known as a quirky neighborhood character with some mental health issues. His family said that he struggled with alcohol, but the community knew he meant no harm.
Andre Wilson, 38, who’s known Vassell for 20 years, said he was odd but harmless.
“All he did was just walk around the neighborhood,” Wilson said. “He speaks to himself, usually he has an orange Bible or a rosary in his hand. He never had a problem with anyone.”
Wilson said he was shocked that it would come to this.
“The officers from the neighborhood, they know him. He has no issue with violence … This shouldn’t have happened at all.”
Vassell’s ex-partner, Sherlan Smith, 36, mother to Tyshawn, said she parted with Vassell on good terms.
“He was a good father. He wasn’t a bad person. No matter how they want to spin it, he wasn’t a bad person,” Smith said. “Too many black people are dying at hands of police officers and it’s about time something be done.”
On the fence outside Vassell’s building a sign read, “Without Consequences Police Murders Will Continue”, on the back it said “Black Lives Matter.”
She also noted the bleak symbolism of Vassell getting shot on April 4.
“On the anniversary of the man who stood up for black people … you’re going take a black man down with nine bullets,” Smith said.
The shooting comes as the nation paused to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.