NYPD officers responding to reports of a man threatening people with a gun on Wednesday fatally shot a black man carrying a metal pipe, mistaking it for a firearm, police say. It happened just before 5pm in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after three 911 callers said a "man was pointing a silver firearm at people on the street," according to NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan. Five officers, three in plainclothes and two in uniform, responded and encountered a man matching the description in the 911 calls. "The suspect took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at the approaching officers," says Monahan, per the AP. Four of the officers then fired a total of 10 rounds, striking the man.
The man was later found to be holding a "pipe with some sort of knob at the end," Monahan says. Andre Wilson, 38, tells the New York Daily News that he has known the victim for 20 years. He describes him as a quirky neighborhood character. "All he did was just walk around the neighborhood," he says. "He speaks to himself, usually he has an orange Bible or a rosary in his hand. He never had a problem with anyone." He says neighborhood officers knew him and "this shouldn’t have happened at all." Family members have identified the man as Saheed Vassell, the 34-year-old father of a teenage son. Vassell's father says his son struggled with bipolar disorder but refused treatment. The NYPD has declined to confirm witness accounts that officers opened fire without warning.