Video, 911 calls, released in fatal police shooting of Paterson’s Najee Seabrooks

By: - March 16, 2023 5:52 pm

The Attorney General’s Office released the records as protesters gathered outside a courthouse in Paterson to demand justice for Seabrooks.

Najee Seabrooks called police for help.

“I think some people waiting for me, when I walk out, so I need help, I need an escort to my car,” he told a dispatcher. “Can you send two, please?”

Within hours, Seabrooks would die at the hands of the Paterson police officers sent to help him, igniting a furor across the state and beyond about police brutality and what critics say is the systemic mishandling of people in mental health crises.

Thursday, a clearer picture of the police response emerged, after the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office released police body camera footage and 911 calls related to the March 3 death of Seabrooks. Some of the footage is violent and disturbing.

Seabrooks, 31, was an interventionist with the Paterson Healing Collective, a group that responds to such calls to defuse tensions and connect people in crisis with care.

“Nobody is going to shoot you,” one officer told Seabrooks, even as other officers in tactical gear had their guns pointed at the bathroom where Seabrooks had barricaded himself.

“Let’s get you help,” another officer told him.

“No one is trying to hurt you,” a dispatcher told Seabrooks one of the many times he called 911 for help.

The Attorney General’s Office released the records even as protesters gathered outside the federal building in Paterson to demand justice for Seabrooks and accountability from a police department that critics have long decried as corrupt and violent.

Racial justice advocates have called for the federal Department of Justice to investigate Seabrooks’ death. He was the eighth person to die during a police encounter since 2019 in Paterson, the most of any municipality statewide, according to NJ Spotlight.

Police first responded at 7:43 a.m. to Seabrooks’ brother’s Mill Street apartment, where his relatives said Seabrooks had gone about six hours earlier, according to the Attorney General’s Office. His family told officers he was hallucinating and possibly experiencing a bad reaction to something he smoked and that his actions were completely out of character. They asked for an ambulance.

Over the next five hours, relatives and officers implored Seabrooks to come out of the bathroom, according to bodycam footage and the Attorney General’s Office. During that time, Seabrooks cut himself, set a fire in the bathroom, flooded the apartment, threw things at officers, and threatened to take his own life, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Officers fired about 15 “less-than-lethal, sponge-tipped projectiles” at Seabrooks, to no effect.

His crying mother stood at the closed door, told him she loved him, and pleaded with him to come out, one officer’s body cam footage showed.

At 12:35 p.m., Seabrooks emerged from the bathroom and “lunged toward the officers with a knife in his hand,” the Attorney General’s Office said. Officers Anzore Tsay and Jose Hernandez opened fire, hitting Seabrooks, who doctors declared dead 16 minutes later at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center.

In most bodycam footage of the incident, officers obstruct the cameras’ view, making it difficult to independently verify authorities’ description of the encounter.

The officers who used “less than lethal force” on Seabrooks were identified as Hector Mendez, Qiao Lin, and Mario Vdovjak.

State law requires fatal police encounters to be presented to a grand jury to determine if involved officers should be indicted.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.