The father of Saheed Vassell demanded more accountability of the police officers who killed his son.
Last Friday evening, 16 weeks after New York City Police Department officers shot and killed Saheed Vassell, the department leaked the names of the officers involved in the shooting. The officers identified were Leon Dinham, Anthony Bottiglieri, Bekim Molic and Omar Rafiq. Everyone but Rafiq was assigned to the 71st Precinct in Crown Heights, Vassell’s district.
The four officers shot and killed the mentally ill Vassell as he waved around a pipe that officers said looked like a firearm.
Saheed’s father Eric Vassell in a statement outlined his frustration with law enforcement, local government and the pursuit of justice.
“We shouldn’t have to wait 16 weeks for media leaks to find out the names of the NYPD officers who murdered my son Saheed,” stated Vassell. “And my family shouldn’t have to keep waiting for the police department and attorney general to complete their investigations when it took the police less than 24 hours to declare that my son’s killing was justified. It adds to my family’s pain to learn that in all of this time, none of the four officers have been assigned to modified duty, even while the NYPD claims they are still conducting their investigation.
“The message this sends is that the investigation of the four officers who recklessly killed my son in a hail of at least 10 bullets in broad daylight is a sham, meant simply to protect these officers instead of attempting to uncover the truth,” stated Vassell.
Vassell’s family said members of the 71st Precinct knew of Vassell’s mental illness and knew he wasn’t a public danger. The police have released snippets of surveillance videos of the incident, but the family wants a full, unedited video released.
Justice Committee Co-Director Loyda Colon directed as much of her ire toward New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as she did the NYPD.
“The fact that, after four months, the names of only four of the five NYPD officers involved in the killing of Saheed Vassell have been leaked through informal channels—versus being quickly, fully and formally reported to Saheed’s family and the public—is representative of the dramatic leap backward the de Blasio administration has taken when it comes to police transparency,” said Colon in a statement.
This isn’t the first time the police and the city have taken their time releasing names, showing transparency or issuing punishment in NYPD investigations. It took more than five years for the NYPD to take disciplinary actions against the officers involved in Ramarley Graham’s killing (action that was taken mostly because of a campaign by his family and activists). More than two years ago, NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs shot unarmed Delrawn Small three times in Brooklyn, killing him. Isaacs didn’t provide assistance and didn’t call 911 to inform them that he’d shot someone, while Small bled to death on the street. An NYPD sergeant only lost five vacation days as a penalty for shoving then 14-year-old Javier Payne through a storefront glass window, which sent glass into his heart, nearly killing him and leaving the kid with a punctured lung.
Mark Winston-Griffith is executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a grassroots community organization in central Brooklyn that has worked closely with the Vassell family to seek justice for Saheed.
“The NYPD should have immediately released the names of all the officers responsible for killing Saheed Vassell back in April, instead of releasing selectively edited video meant to criminalize Saheed and justify the killing,” said Griffith in a statement. “This is not transparency, and learning that none of the officers were put on modified duty while the NYPD and attorney general’s office are still conducting their investigations makes it seem that the de Blasio administration is more interested in protecting officers who kill unarmed New Yorkers than seeking truth or protecting Saheed’s Crown Heights community.”
“The message this sends—just like in the case of Eric Garner—is that officers in de Blasio’s NYPD who kill unarmed New Yorkers will be protected at all costs, even if they may pose a risk to public safety,” added Communities United for Police Reform representative Carolyn Martinez-Class in a statement.