NEW YORK – The metal object that was mistaken for a gun in a fatal shooting by officers turned out to be the head of a welding torch, according to New York Police Department officials.
Saheed Vassell’s father has told reporters that his son had previously worked as a welder.
Police seeking to quell simmering anger over their shooting of the mentally disturbed black man released a montage of security videos Thursday that showed him minutes earlier thrusting a metal object that looked like a gun into the faces of several people – including a woman holding the hand of her child.
A final video snippet showed the man raising the object in a two-handed shooting stance as police arrived, the edited video frozen just before officers unleashed 10 shots that left the 34-year-old Vassell dead.
The shooting in Brooklyn on Wednesday evening prompted two nights of protests among many who felt police should have known that Vassell, a fixture in the Crown Heights neighborhood, had emotional problems.
But Mayor Bill De Blasio didn’t lay blame on the officers, who were not from the local precinct and were passing through at the time. He said they had no information that the person they were confronting was mentally ill.
“It’s a tragedy because a man with a profound mental health problem … was doing something that people perceived to be a threat to the safety of others,” de Blasio said at a news conference shortly before the images and a partial transcript of 911 calls were released.
The release of the edited material on the NYPD’s Twitter account – the full videos and transcripts weren’t immediately provided – was meant to back up the department’s claims that the four plainclothes and two uniformed officers who responded had a legitimate reason to believe they needed to move swiftly to stop a deadly threat.
The material released by the department didn’t answer questions about whether the officers had identified themselves or ordered the victim to drop the object before they opened fire. The city’s medical examiner found he was hit seven to nine times, including one shot to the head.
At a vigil Thursday night, Vassell’s mother, Lorna, said her son “came from a good home.”
Vassell’s father, Eric, told reporters that his son had been hospitalized several times for psychiatric problems, some involving encounters with the police, but that he was polite and kind.
“Police had a choice. They always have a choice. They should not train them to kill. They should train them to protect life, to save life,” Eric Vassell said in an interview with WABC-TV.
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