Police Release First Details of Officers Who Shot Man in Brooklyn

In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, protests continued two days after a man with bipolar disorder was shot by the police.

Two days after police officers in Brooklyn shot and killed a man holding a slim metal pipe as if it were a gun, the police offered the first information about the officers involved and released 911 call transcripts, though some details of what happened in the moments before the shooting remained hazy.

Several witnesses, including one who said on Friday that he tried getting the officers’ attention before they fired, have said they did not hear officers shout a warning or command before shooting. The police said on Friday that the officers repeatedly told the man: “Drop it.”

Officers from a plainclothes anti-crime unit responded late Wednesday afternoon after seeing an alert on their smartphones for a gun incident; they called a dispatcher, who told them a 911 caller had reported a man was pointing a gun at people, the police said.

The police said on Friday it took 5 to 10 seconds from the moment officers pulled up to the corner of Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue to the moment they shot the man, Saheed Vassell. The department did not answer questions about how far the officers were from Mr. Vassell or what exactly they did in those intervening seconds.

Security camera footage shows Mr. Vassell, 34, getting into a shooting stance and raising the pipe before the police shot him. The police said he was pointing it toward responding officers.

“These officers didn’t have much time,” the chief of detectives, Robert K. Boyce, said on Friday. “When you’re presented with an immediate threat, it is different from being able to step back and talk.”

The police did not release any video of the officers getting out of their car or firing. Officials said the only security camera that captured the officers was almost a block away and did not show the incident in much detail. They said they were not releasing it because the department and the state attorney general’s office were still investigating the shooting.

Late Friday, the police released the first details about the four officers who fired at Mr. Vassell, who was black.

Three of the officers were from a plainclothes anti-crime unit in the 71st Precinct, the police said: a white officer with four years of experience; a white officer with six years of experience; and a black officer with five years of experience. They fired nine shots between them.

The fourth was a uniformed officer from the Strategic Response Group, which handles major events and hot spots of crime. He is Indian, the police said, and has six years of experience. He fired once, the police said.

None of the officers had been involved in any previous shootings, the police said.

Another uniformed officer from the Strategic Response Group and a sergeant from the 71st Precinct were also at the scene, though neither fired their weapon.

The shooting of Mr. Vassell, who had bipolar disorder and was not taking medication, has set off protests in the Crown Heights neighborhood and raised questions about the mental health services he received after previous encounters with the police, as well as whether the responding officers had any alternative to shooting him.

Several elected officials and civil rights advocates — among them the city’s public advocate, Letitia James; the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr.; and the Rev. Al Sharpton — said the lack of coordination between neighborhood officers and special squads who often respond to 911 calls about guns was a major flaw in the mayor’s neighorhood policing program. “It begs the fundamental question of what is the goal and the purpose of community policing,” Mr. Diaz said Friday.

Police officers had previously taken Mr. Vassell to the hospital for psychiatric treatment multiple times, and residents of the area said many officers knew him, with some even occasionally buying him food. The police had given him 120 summonses over the years. The officers who first responded on Wednesday were from special units, however, and did not know him.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday defended his neighborhood policing program, saying it could not help officers defuse encounters that play out so quickly. In this instance, he said, there was no time to call for backup from local patrol officers who might have known Mr. Vassell. But he said the neighborhood policing model still gave police officers a better chance to get someone like Mr. Vassell mental health care.

“It’s not a perfect tool because, again, not every officer is exactly where you want them to be at that moment, if they happen to have that relationship,” Mr. de Blasio said on WNYC. “But what it should help us get to more is getting people the help they need to begin with.”

The 911 transcripts released on Friday gave a fuller picture of what police dispatchers were told. The police got three 911 calls about Mr. Vassell, they said, only two of them before the shooting. It was not clear which of the calls was made after the shooting.

One caller described a man “pointing a silver thing in a lady’s face,” then told a dispatcher: “I don’t know if it’s a gun, ma’am. It seems like a gun. It’s silver.”

Another caller said a man outside a laundromat had a gun in his hand.

And a third caller told a dispatcher: “He looks like he is crazy, but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s like popping it like he’s pulling the trigger. He’s not pulling a trigger, but he’s making a motion as if he is, and there is something sticking out of his jacket.”

After Mr. Vassell was shot, the third caller indicated there were some signs he had only been pretending to have a gun, though the caller was not sure.

In two minutes of security camera footage the police released on Friday, people are seen scurrying away from Mr. Vassell as he points a silver object at them. Others appear startled but continue to walk down the street.

Moments before the police arrived, Mr. Vassell had gone into a corner barbershop where he sometimes worked and pointed an object at several people as if it were a gun, the barbershop’s owner, Kevin Davis, said. No one took him seriously.

“Shredda, you gonna shoot me?” one person joked, using Mr. Vassell’s nickname, Mr. Davis recalled.

Mr. Vassell then left and crossed the street, and Mr. Davis said he saw an unmarked police car make a sudden U-turn at Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue.

“When they made the U-turn, I went to the corner with my hands up to try and tell them, ‘No,’ because I know they saw him,” Mr. Davis said. “They were not looking. They were not looking my way.”

Mr. Davis said he did not hear the officers say anything before they fired.

Investigators from the office of the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, met with Mr. Vassell’s family on Friday “to extend their condolences and commitment to an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation,” a spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick, said.

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