Najee Seabrooks’ Standoff With Cops is Captured on Bodycam. Supporters Believe It Shows He Didn’t Have to Die

The police shooting death of 31-year-old violence intervention campaigner Najee Seabrooks in Paterson, New Jersey, during a mental health crisis was the subject of four hours of body camera footage published on Thursday.

More than a dozen censored video and 911 call clips uploaded by the New Jersey attorney general’s office to a public Dropbox shed additional light on the tense moments between Seabrooks and a group of officers during a five-hour standoff before his death.

Many protests were staged all throughout the city in the two weeks following the deadly encounter on March 3 by community people and campaigners seeking the release of the tape and police accountability and change.

To many advocates, the tapes and calls just raise additional questions about why fatal force was used in the first place, even though they do answer certain questions about what happened before Seabrooks was killed. It also confirms, for some, what they suspected all along: that Seabrooks must be alive and well.

Bodycam Footage Shows Najee Seabrooks's Standoff With Police
Bodycam Footage Shows Najee Seabrooks’s Standoff With Police

According to Zellie Thomas, the leader of the Black Lives Matter branch in Paterson, as quoted by Yahoo News, “Najee was experiencing a mental health crisis,” after the publication of the body camera tape.

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The fact that Seabrooks, who works with the Paterson Healing Collective (PHC), a group dedicated to supporting survivors of abuse, had called members of the PHC during the standoff urging them to intervene, but they had declined, is particularly upsetting to critics. Yahoo News reached out to the Paterson Police Department for comment but has not yet heard back.

The Shooting

According to the state attorney general’s report, Seabrooks barricaded himself inside his apartment when police arrived just before 8 a.m. on March 3 in response to calls of a mentally disturbed person in his home. Members of his family called the police to report that he was “hallucinating and behaving strangely.”

The standoff was captured on twelve separate video clips from seven different officers’ body cameras, as well as seven emergency phone calls, some of which came from Seabrooks himself. Seabrooks yells, “Ya’ll are trying to kill me,” as armed policemen surround the restroom he is using.

An unidentified officer responds, “No one will kill you here. We’re worried about you.” Emergency responders, crisis negotiators, and medical personnel all arrived at the residence that morning. Meanwhile, Seabrooks is pleading with the police not to shoot him while slashing himself with the knives. Also, he requests “one final time” with his mom.

Just as the officer is trying to comfort Seabrooks that his wife wouldn’t want to see him like this, surveillance footage shows him lunging at the officer with what seems to be a knife in his hand. The state attorney general’s office claims that two officers, Anzore Tsay and Jose Hernandez, both of the emergency response team, fired their firearms, striking Seabrooks.

The police quickly rushed in to cuff him. Saint. Joseph’s Regional Medical Hospital in Paterson later pronounced him dead.

The Impact of the Footage

Assistant professor of African American studies and criminology at the College of New Jersey Michael Mitchell thinks the footage proves that not all possible solutions were considered.

“The video’s release certainly adds more questions as to why non-law enforcement personnel, for example, the psychiatric team at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, and/or members of the Paterson Healing Collective, were either not called to the location or denied some access at the very least to assist in de-escalation,” Mitchell told Yahoo News in an email.

Many members of the community were disappointed with the abridged and deleted video and phone calls that were published on Thursday.

“Despite what the videotape revealed — the edited, blurred, redacted videotape revealed — nothing trumps our real-life testimony,” PHC member Casey Melvin told the Paterson Press. “We were there. We know he walked in and left out on a stretcher.”

Three days prior to the release of the audio and video footage, dozens of grassroots advocacy groups from across the state wrote a letter to the Department of Justice, urging it to launch its own investigation into the Paterson Police Department, citing years of “unlawful and unconstitutional conduct.”

Along with Seabrooks’ death, the advocates in the open letter cited at least two dozen news articles and audits of the police department over the past decade to justify the investigation. According to Mitchell, who worked as a detention service officer in a big county jail’s mental health housing unit, police officers aren’t trained to deal with someone facing a mental health crisis, and that’s what the video shows.

“On several occasions, I have personally encountered individuals experiencing a mental health crisis inside of a correctional facility,” he said. “In my experience, these encounters take time, patience, empathy and individuals/professionals with specialized training in crisis intervention”.

“A growing body of research underscores the complexities of mental illness and violence, and law enforcement responses alone, without assistance of mental health professionals or individuals trained in crisis intervention, can be counterproductive. Unfortunately, the result for Najee was death.”

Authorities stated that they were unable to use Tasers because of the large volume of water present on the floor as a result of Seabrooks’ pipe-breaking and a small fire. According to the state attorney general, the shooting is still being looked into.

Bodycam Footage Shows Najee Seabrooks's Standoff With Police (2)
Bodycam Footage Shows Najee Seabrooks’s Standoff With Police (2)

After Seabrooks’ death two weeks ago, many people in the city held marches and news conferences to express their grief and fury. On Tuesday, a council member and the city’s financial director confronted one another after a heated debate during a meeting of the City Council.

Many people feel that since Seabrooks’ death, the case has revealed a chasm between the community and most local leaders. Thomas, though, insisted that the struggle for redress in the murder case would go on.

“As long as we feel it’s justifiable that someone should be killed for experiencing a mental health crisis, when other resources exist to keep them safe, we will continue fighting,” Thomas said. “There will always be someone in this country experiencing a mental health crisis, but they don’t always have to die.”

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