Ahead of the One-Year Anniversary of Saheed Vassell’s Death, Elected Officials, Police Accountability Advocates, and Family Members Demand Real Accountability for NYPD Officers Who Killed Him
New York – Today, at City Hall, elected officials, police accountability advocates, and members of the Vassell family gathered to demand real accountability for NYPD officers who killed Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This news event commemorated the one-year anniversary of Saheed’s death. On April 4, 2018, Saheed Vassell was killed by NYPD Strategic Response Group and plainclothes officers in broad daylight - in a hail of 10 bullets, on the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.
Speakers at today’s news event included: Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell; Lorna Vassell, mother of Saheed Vassell; Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah; Mark Winston-Griffith, executive Director of Brooklyn Movement Center; Council Members Antonio Reynoso, Inez Barron, Brad Lander, Rory Lancman; and others from Brooklyn Movement Center & Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) who are supporting the Vassell family’s push to secure justice for their slain son.
They called on Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD to deliver policy change, real accountability and meaningful disciplinary consequences for the police officers who killed Saheed and for those who engaged in related misconduct, including illegally leaking sealed records. So far, it has been reported that none of the officers involved in killing Saheed or in the cover-up have been put on modified duty or faced any other consequence for their actions.
Four of the officers on the scene reportedly shot at Saheed immediately upon arriving and exiting their cars, similar to how 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police officers in Cleveland. According to the Attorney General's report, no civilian witnesses stated that they heard officers identify themselves, or issue any warnings or verbal commands before shooting Saheed.
“Our son Saheed should be alive today. NYPD officers recklessly took his life and then the NYPD pushed a narrative to falsely criminalize and blame him for his own death. We are still devastated by the news that the Attorney General will not pursue criminal charges for any officers and that this news was disrespectfully leaked while we were being informed by Attorney General staff. The Mayor and NYPD must put the officers who killed our son, and illegally leaked sealed information, on immediate modified duty and move forward to charge and fire them. Anything less is unacceptable," said Saheed Vassell’s parents, Eric Vassell and Lorna Vassell.
"Saheed's death is an indictment of a system that does not know how to properly respond to EDP situations. When people in time of emotional distress are being met with a criminal response, the result is too often tragic. My heart aches for Saheed's family in their grief—they see no justice, they have no peace. We must push for greater transparency in this and all instances, expedite officer trainings, and more importantly change the culture and practice of emergency response to prevent future loss," said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“One year after Saheed Vassell’s death, his family and the Crown Heights community that loved him has no more answers than we had the day after he was gunned down by the NYPD. The NYPD officers who murdered him in broad daylight have faced zero consequences for taking the life of an unarmed Black man, a narrative we know all too well. Mayor de Blasio’s hollow promises of transparency intensify both the pain of Saheed’s death and the daily realities of police abuse in Black neighborhoods. We urge the Mayor to take real, concrete steps to keep Crown Heights residents safe by disciplining all the officers involved in Saheed’s killing immediately,” said Brooklyn Movement Center Deputy Director Anthonine Pierre.
“Last April, the NYPD killed Saheed Vassell in a display of gross misconduct. Nearly a year has passed since Saheed was tragically killed, and while his family endures the pain of his absence every day, the officers complicit in his death have faced no repercussions or accountability for their actions. I stand in solemn solidarity with the family of Saheed Vassell and Communities United for Police Reform as we demand real accountability for NYPD officers and seek justice for Saheed and the numerous other victims of senseless police brutality,” said New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso.
Instead of being transparent with the release of all relevant information, the NYPD has engaged in a public relations campaign to influence public perception of Vassell’s killing.
For sixteen weeks after Saheed was killed, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD refused to publicly release the names of the officers responsible for killing Saheed, despite the fact that other cities routinely release such information in the aftermath of shootings within 24-72 hours. They placed all of the focus on Vassell, the victim of police violence, rather than officers’ actions, constructing and disseminating a self-serving narrative. They selectively released information, including doctored pictures and selectively-edited video. They even unlawfully leaked sealed information about Vassell’s medical history and alleged past contact with law enforcement.
At the same time, the NYPD deflected attention from its officers’ actions in the incident, refusing to release the names, misconduct histories, and unedited video of the officers involved in the killing. It was only through media leaks in late July 2018 that the public learned the names of police officers involved in Saheed’s death. For the past year, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have refused to release the unedited footage of officers demanded by Saheed's family, or explain why the hyper-militarized Strategic Response Group was deployed, while neighborhood officers who knew Saheed were not dispatched. To the Vassell family's knowledge, no involved officers have been served administrative charges or placed on modified duty.
The New York State Attorney General's office investigated the killing of Saheed Vassell as the special prosecutor in this case, but officially declined on March 29, 2019 to seek indictments and prosecutions of the officers involved in Saheed’s death, or related criminal misconduct.
“The Justice Committee stands with the family of Saheed Vassell in their demands for justice and accountability for his death. Attorney General James' failure to seek indictments in this case, just like the Mayor and NYPD Commissioner's failure to bring disciplinary charges against any of the officers involved, or even put them on modified duty, indicates a systemic lack of regard for those who suffer from mental illness. The number of people with mental health diagnoses who are killed by police or incarcerated is staggering. Our goal should be to preserve life and give care to those in need, not criminalize and brutalize them, as was done to Saheed,” said Justice Committee Co-Director Loyda Colon.
“Since the Attorney General did not press charges against the officers that murdered Saheed, his family did not receive justice, and they will continue to hurt. The Vassell family, and many communities throughout New York still have significant questions as to what happened that resulted in the murder of Saheed Vassell. We stand with Saheed and his family in continuing the fight for justice,” said Adam, a South Queens member of Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM).
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.
CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.