New York City police officers fatally shot a man with known mental health problems on Wednesday afternoon after their police training left them unable to distinguish between a metal pipe and a gun.
Police were familiar with the man, Saheed Vassell, 34, and knew he was bipolar, they classified him as emotionally disturbed, reported The NY Times.
After shooting Vassell, officers realized he was only holding “a pipe with some sort of knob on it,” Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan said.
Shortly before 5 p.m., 5 officers, 2 uniformed, responded to three 911 calls giving false information. The callers all said a man was aiming a silver firearm at people in Brooklyn, Monahan said.
When officers arrived at the scene, the mentally ill suspect took a shooting stance and pointed the pipe at officers.
Four of the officers fired a total of 10 rounds at Vassell, then reportedly gave him first aid before he was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Eric Vassell, the victim’s father, said that he no access to guns and suffered from bipolar disorder.
“He’s polite, nice, he’s kind. He just comes and he goes,” Eric Vassell said.
The victim’s 15-year-old son, Tyshawn, said Saheed was 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.”
Area residents told the NY Times that Saheed Vassell was well known in the area. He begged for money at the subway station and did odd jobs for shop keepers. He was also known to pick up things off the street, such as lighters, bottles, a pipe with a knob on it, and play with them like toys. They also said the police were familiar with the man and knew about his mental issues, so they should have known not to kill him.