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NYPD: Officers Told Man To 'Drop It' Before Deadly Police-Involved Shooting

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The NYPD released new details Friday in the deadly-police involved shooting of a mentally ill man in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Police initially said officers had to make a split-second decision when they pulled up to Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue, where 34-year-old Saheed Vassell was shot and killed Wednesday night. But witnesses have maintained the officers who opened fire never gave any warning.

A series of surveillance videos show Vassell pointing a silver object at several people on the sidewalk, including one woman holding the hand of a child. Witnesses called 911, saying the object looked like a gun. It turned out to be the head of a welding torch.

Four officers fired a total of 10 shots, police said. The medical examiner found Vassell had been hit seven to nine times, including one shot in the head.

Late Friday, the NYPD said after further investigation and reviewing surveillance video of the shooting, there were actually five to 10 seconds before the officers fired, and the verbal command "drop it" was given three different times, CBS2's Valerie Castro reported.

Some Crown Heights residents CBS2 spoke with said they don't believe it.

"That's a big lie. That's a lie, because I was there. They came out of the car, they didn't say no 'drop your weapon,' no 'police.' They didn't say nothing," witness Kevin Davis said. "They came out of the car and in less than two seconds, they started shooting."

"That's a lie. They never said 'drop your gun,' nobody never said that," said witness Alex Willie.

Police have not yet released the surveillance video they say supports this. They also have not said who gave the verbal command or who heard it.

Crown Heights Incident
Surveillance video shows Saheed Vassell, reported to police as wielding a gun in Crown Heights on April 4, 2018. The gun was later identified to be a piece of a welding torch. (credit: CBS2)

The shooting 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.

"Officers responding only understood, for the best of our knowledge so far, they were dealing with a situation of someone armed who had been aiming that weapon," de Blasio said Thursday. "We've got to recognize if they believe they are in immediate matter of life-and-death to the people in the surrounding area, that's an exceedingly difficult, tense split-second decision that has to be made."

Crown Heights Police-Involved Shooting
(credit: NYPD)

Police said the responding officers were from a strategic response group and an anti-crime unit, not from the local 71st Precinct and not familiar with Vassell.

"He's mentally ill but don't mess with anybody," resident O'Neil Headley said. "It's very sad because it's a dude from around here and a lot of people love him and he don't mess with anybody."

At a vigil Thursday night, Vassell's mother, Lorna, said her son "came from a good home."

"They murdered my son and I want justice for him," she said. "Everyone that knows Saheed loved Saheed and Saheed is a very good young man."

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.

Following the rally, a crowd of several hundred marched to the 71st Precinct, shutting down both lanes of traffic on Empire Boulevard. Community leaders called for action and demanded answers from the NYPD.

"If we don't turn around and do something now, like the time is now, the energy is now," one demonstrator said.

Police said none of the 911 calls they received reported that Vassell may have been emotionally disturbed, only that people were concerned he was carrying a gun.

The Attorney General's Office said in a statement Thursday that its Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit "has opened an investigation into the shooting. The office has the power to investigate police-involved deaths of unarmed people.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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