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Police pleaded for hours with an NJ man in crisis. Then they shot him

For hours, Paterson police begged Najee Seabrooks to come out of a locked bathroom where he threatened to kill himself.

“Everyone get out of here, including you,” one of the officers told him, according to police body camera video released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office this week.

“I’m dying in this bathroom,” said Mr. Seabrooks, a 31-year-old mentor at an anti-violence organization in Paterson, a town of 158,000 in northern New Jersey.

“That’s not the case, Najee,” replied the officer. “Not in my care. Come on. You’re going to live a long time. That’s not how it ends for you.

Najee Seabrooks was feeling the stress of her job, relatives said.

But at 12.51am on March 3, around five hours after someone called 911 to report a man in distress, Mr Seabrooks was pronounced dead. He had been shot by two officers, who shot him after Mr Seabrooks emerged from the bathroom and ‘rushed towards the officers with a knife in hand’, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office , who is investigating the shooting. .

The attorney general’s office identified the two officers who fired their weapons as Anzore Tsay and Jose Hernandez, both members of the department’s emergency response team.

The case rocked the town, where colleagues and family of Mr Seabrooks demanded to know why mental health specialists were not allowed into the flat so they could help. Protesters marched to denounce the shooting and call on the US Department of Justice to investigate. A week after Mr Seabrooks was shot, several dozen people gathered at a restaurant owned by one of the officers involved in the shooting and banged and kicked the security barrier.

Footage released by the Attorney General, taken from at least four hours of video from cameras carried by officers at the scene, shows police repeatedly telling Mr Seabrooks, who in some places can be seen holding a knife bloody, get out and talk. to his mother. They asked him how they could help him, urged him to stop cutting himself, then begged him to come out so they could take him to hospital. Then, at 12.35 p.m., Mr. Seabrooks jumped out of the bathroom.

“It was a dangerous situation there,” said Andre Sayegh, the mayor of Paterson, whose administration had repeatedly urged the state attorney general’s office to release body camera footage of the police.

The officers “were there to provide relief and as you will see in the videos they were trying as much as possible to avoid a tragic outcome,” he said.

Police did not respond to messages for comment. The attorney general’s office said it would not comment beyond its statement, citing the ongoing investigation.

Members of the Paterson Healing Collective, the anti-violence organization where Mr Seabrooks had worked for two years as an interventionist, said the videos show precisely why the police should not be the first responders when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis.

Officers had their guns drawn as they spoke with Mr Seabrooks, who told officers he had three knives and “a gun, fully loaded”.

Members of the Paterson Healing Collective said they were barred by police as they waited for hours in the lobby of the multi-storey building where Mr Seabrooks was shot.

Mr. Seabrooks had repeatedly texted members of the collective that morning asking where they were, said Liza Chowdhury, project director of the Paterson Healing Collective.

“’I need to hear your voices. I need to see your faces,” she said. Even after Mr Seabrooks’ colleagues showed the messages to officers at the scene, ‘the police wouldn’t let us in,’ Ms Chowdhury said. When she asked the city’s director of public safety, Jerry Speziale, to give his staff access to the apartment, she said he replied that the department had sent a trained unit to defuse this. type of situations.

Mr. Speziale did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Ms Chowdhury said her staff are trained to talk for hours to people going through “the worst situations of their lives”.

“Any mental health professional knows that patience is key,” she said. “Patience, empathy, understanding.”

Ms Chowdhury, who was a probation officer for 10 years, said showing a gun to someone going through a mental health crisis only increases paranoia and fear.

Yannick Wood, director of criminal justice reform at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said “there’s something wrong with the system when someone calls in about a mental health issue and ends up be approached by armed men”.

When officers arrived, Mr. Seabrooks was already in the bathroom. He had arrived at his brother’s apartment around 2 a.m., grabbed “a few knives” and locked himself in, his relatives told police.

The family said that “he may have had a bad reaction to something he smoked,” according to the attorney general, “and his actions were completely irrelevant.”

Uniformed officers tried to cajole him, then his mother spoke to him from outside the door.

“Please, Najee,” she said, crying. “I love you, Najee. Open the door. Najee, come on, open the door for me please.

He wouldn’t come out.

His mother told police that Mr Seabrooks had no history of mental illness but that the job of helping young people avoid violence was becoming stressful, according to the video.

“I think it happens to him,” she said. “He saw a lot of his friends get killed.”

When an officer told her Mr Seabrooks had told police he had a gun, she appeared confused.

“Where did he get a gun?” she asked.

A specialized unit soon arrived, carrying shields, high-powered firearms, and wearing helmets.

At 11.46am Mr Seabrooks, who was shirtless, peeked out the door and saw the officers pointing their guns in his direction. He let out a cry.

“Is that how you come? he asked, then swore.

“Drop the knife, man,” demanded an officer.

“Less than lethal,” ordered a supervisor. “Less than lethal.”

They told him to stop cutting himself and get out. Camera angles make it difficult to see Mr. Seabrooks in the bathroom, but he can be heard screaming.

The officers continued to beg him to drop the knives.

“Just put them down,” said one of the officers. They offered to let him talk to his mother again.

“I’m sure she doesn’t want to see you like this,” an officer said, seconds before Mr Seabrook appeared to jump out the door.

“Let go!” the officer shouted, just before the shots were fired.

Ms Chowdhury said Mr Seabrooks’ family were planning to hold his funeral on Saturday. He had a daughter, who is about 4 years old, she said.

Ms Chowdury said that while her staff members were at the scene, she was texting Mr Seabrooks and talking to police on the phone. Then members of his staff called to say they had heard gunshots.

“I just said no. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I never thought the police were going to kill him.”

nytimes Gt

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