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New York City police officers shot and killed a black man they reportedly thought was holding a gun directed at them in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Wednesday. NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said authorities responded to three calls regarding a possibly armed man.
When five officers—three of them in plain clothes—found the man in question at around 4:45 p.m., Chief Monahan claims “the suspect took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers.” The man was later identified as 34-year-old Saheed Vassell. "This is a guy that the cops see every day," Crown Heights resident Latitia Richardson told the Guardian. "He is not a stranger to the community."
Four of the officers responded to Saheed by firing a total of nine shots. The New York Times has received conflicting accounts from witnesses regarding what happened in the moments before shots were fired. While "some of the witnesses" claim they didn't hear the officers say anything beforehand, "another witness" recalls hearing the officers and Saheed exchanging words.
When the officers approached Saheed, they discovered that the object being directed at them wasn't a gun, but a metal pipe with a knob at the end.
The New York Times is reporting that people in the area who identified Saheed as a familiar figure say he struggled with mental illness. A spokesperson for the NYPD claims that he was seen as an emotionally disturbed person based on previous encounters.
Chief Monahan says the officers who fired the shots were not wearing body cameras at the time of the incident since the plainclothes officers were already assigned to an anti-crime unit while the ones in uniform were part of the Strategic Response Group, which are responsible for covering major events.
As of Friday, the police killing had inspired hundreds of residents to march through Crown Heights in protest. Video and 911 call transcript excerpts released by NYPD can be found below.