NEW YORK — Police officers were “legally justified” in the killing of a mentally disturbed man they said was wielding a piece of pipe like a gun on a New York City street, according to a report on the shooting released Friday.
The review by the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James cleared New York Police Department officers who opened fire on Saheed Vassell in response to reports of an armed man menacing people on the streets of Brooklyn in 2018.
The report said the victim had a history of mental illness, but the officers didn’t know about it. It also cited transcripts of 911 calls from witness saying that Vassell was pointing an object that appeared to be a pistol.
Security videotape released by police shortly after the incident showed the 34-year-old man raising the object in a two-handed shooting stance at officers just before they unleashed 10 shots that left him dead. His weapon turned out to be an L-shaped section of pipe from a welding tool.
The killing sparked unrest by protesters saying it was another example of an unarmed black man dying at the hands of police officers.
There was no immediate response to a message left Friday seeking comment from a lawyer for Vassell’s family.
In a statement, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the NYPD would consider recommendations by the attorney general to improve how it responses to similar situations.
“The death of Mr. Vassell was a tragedy that no police officer – or anyone – would ever want to occur,” O’Neill said.