Videos show tense standoff before fatal NJ police shooting
Mar 17, 2023, 1:45 PM | Updated: 4:08 pm
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A five-hour-long standoff between police in Paterson, New Jersey, and a well-known anti-violence worker in the city — that ended with officers fatally shooting him in his brother’s apartment — began with sobbing pleas from the man’s mother to end the ordeal.
Details released this week by the New Jersey attorney general’s office, including hours of body-camera footage from seven officers as well as seven 911 recordings, provide the most comprehensive account yet of the March 3 standoff that ended with the death of Najee Seabrooks.
Seabrooks, 31, was a crisis intervention worker and mentor with the nonprofit Paterson Healing Collective and died soon after police shot him when he emerged with a knife from the apartment bathroom where he was holed up, according to the attorney general’s office.
“I’m your mother — why you doing this?” Seabrooks’ mother called out in one video. “Najee, stop because I am your mother. Open the door. Open the door, Najee.” Seabrooks’ response is inaudible in the video.
Long accustomed to helping others in the mid-sized city 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of New York, Seabrooks’ co-workers have been shattered by his death and say authorities prevented them from using their mental-health expertise to deescalate the situation.
It’s also led to the state attorney general’s office investigating the shooting, as required under state law, as well as a public outcry for a Justice Department investigation into the city’s police department.
Seabrooks called 911 just before 8 a.m., telling the dispatcher that he needed immediate help because someone was making death threats against him and that he needed an escort to his car. He called dispatchers a half-dozen more times, with the responders telling him that police were already dispatched.
The videos show officers arriving, introducing themselves and offering to get him water. He asks to speak with a sergeant, who soon arrives and asks him to come out of the bathroom. “What’s going on, my love,” the sergeant says when she arrives.
Seabrooks is hard to hear in some of the video, but the sergeant asks, “How do you want to go about hurting yourself?”
“I got a gun on me,” he said.
“You got a gun and two knives?” the sergeant asks.
Tension increased at that point.
Over the next roughly four hours, more police file into the apartment. According to the attorney general’s office, there were crisis negotiators, emergency medical personnel as well as Paterson police officers.
At one point water can be heard and seen flooding into the apartment hallway from the bathroom. A fire alarm goes off, as officers realize a fire had apparently been set. Later, the bathroom door is open, and Seabrooks appears shirtless.
Officers fired 15 nonlethal projectiles at him, according to the attorney general’s office. One officer says in a video that Seabrooks had been cutting himself.
“Just let me die,” Seabrooks is heard saying. “I’m dying slow.”
An officer responds: “No, come on. I want to help you.”
The videos and calls have been redacted, with the videos frequently obscured by whatever the officer is carrying.
Some of Seabrooks final moments flash in one partially obscured clip. Still in the bathroom, he asks to speak to his mother, and an officer tells him that they can bring her to him.
“Naj, come on, man. Let’s take you to your mom,” the officer said. “I’m sure she don’t want to see you like this.”
Seabrooks came out of the bathroom the next instant.
“Drop it,” the officer yelled as shots rang out.
Seabrooks was taken to St. Joseph’s Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead just over five hours after the first 911 call.
His death has rattled his co-workers, who were at the scene and texting with him, Seabrooks’ boss at the Paterson Healing Collective Liza Chowdhury said Friday in a phone interview. She said Seabrooks had been texting with colleagues, asking to see them, but that police blocked the co-workers from entering the apartment.
“We help so many people and then when our team member needed help we were declined from doing what we do,” she said.
She added: “That was clearly a mental health call. In mental health situations. It requires patience, empathy and asking what the person needs.”
In the two weeks since Seabrooks’ death, anti-violence advocates have organized a vigil calling for a number of reforms, including the creation of a civilian review board. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice has called on the Justice Department to investigate the city’s police department, and the ACLU of New Jersey said the shooting shows the need to invest in non-law enforcement responses to mental health calls.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Paterson mayor and director of public safety.
New Jersey began requiring the state attorney general to investigate fatal encounters involving police in 2019, including presenting evidence to a grand jury.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement that the investigation continues and no other information is being released.