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Metal object in fatal Crown Heights police shooting was welding torch

Posted at 7:53 PM, Apr 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-06 19:53:47-04

NEW YORK — Witnesses who called New York City police to report that a man was menacing people with a gun before police killed him were terrified but also uncertain whether the object the man had really was a gun, 911 transcripts released Friday show.

One caller Wednesday said, “He’s pointing a silver thing in a lady’s face.”

When the dispatcher asked if it was a gun, the caller said, “I don’t know if it’s a gun, ma’am. It seems like a gun. It’s silver.”

Police said the metal object Saheed Vassell was pointing at people was actually the head of a welding torch.

Officers responding to the 911 calls fired 10 shots at the 34-year-old Vassell, killing him.

The shooting sparked two nights of protests by people who said police should have known Vassell suffered from mental illness.

The police department has released surveillance videos and 911 transcripts to back up the department’s position that the officers who responded to the 911 calls had reason to believe Vassell posed a deadly threat.

The video clips show Vassell thrusting an object that looks like a gun into the faces of several people, including a woman holding the hand of a child.

In one of the three 911 calls released Friday, the caller says, “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.”

Another caller says, “Oh my God!” and screams.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office will investigate Vassell’s death.