New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is investigating the death of Saheed Vassell, a Brooklyn man who was shot and killed Wednesday night by police who mistakenly thought he was wielding a gun.
Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the AG’s office, confirmed in a statement that “the Attorney General’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit has opened an investigation into the death of Saheed Vassell.”
This investigation is within the AG’s authority under Executive Order No. 147, Spitalnick noted, which gives Schneiderman the ability to oversee investigations of incidents in which unarmed civilians die during interactions with police, or when there is “significant question” of whether or not that civilian was armed and dangerous.
NYPD officers fired 10 bullets at Vassell, believing he was holding a gun when he was holding a metal pipe with a knob on the end.
“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive, and fair investigation,” Spitalnick said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the AG’s office is investigating Vassell’s death at an unrelated press conference Thursday morning.
“This is a very painful situation, what happened in Crown Heights yesterday. It is a tragedy by any measure,” de Blasio said. “There’s a full investigation going on. I’ve also been informed the attorney general is going to initiate an investigation. We will work fully and cooperatively with him.”
The mayor mentioned Vassell’s reported mental health condition — his father told the New York Times that he was bipolar — and said that aspect itself is one piece of the tragedy. He urged people to reach out to 888-NYC-WELL if they have friends or family members suffering from mental illness.
“If you have a family member with a serious mental health condition, it’s painful, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, it’s confusing,” de Blasio said. “I want to ask people to try to break through those feelings and pick up the phone, because when you call that number you get a trained counselor who can literally tell you step by step what you can do to get that person help.”
Cynthia Nixon, who recently announced her candidacy for governor of New York, also commented on the fatal shooting on Twitter.
“Yesterday, Saheed Vassell was shot and killed by police in Brooklyn,” she said. “When we say we're going to address gun violence that must also include the shootings of unarmed black men and women by the police. #BlackLivesMatter.”