N. Miami Beach Officer Shoots Mentally Disabled Man Carrying Toy Gun

NORTH MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – North Miami Beach Police are piecing together an officer-involved shooting that left a mentally disabled man dead early Wednesday evening.

Officers tell CBS4′s Natalia Zea that a man carrying a rifle was seen walking through a neighborhood in the area of Northeast 155th Terrace and 14th Avenue.

Witnesses say the man even pointing the rifle at a dog at one point. Police say several neighbors called 911 to report the incident.

Police say when officers arrived, there was some sort of confrontation and one officer to open fire on the man.

But their investigation revealed that the “rifle” was in fact, a realistic looking toy. The injured man was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he later died.

Family members say the man police killed is 56-year-old Ernest Vassell.

“They murdered him in cold blood for a toy gun!” cried Vassell’s older sister Claire Harding. “That’s no reason for you to kill somebody!”

Vassell’s sisters say they have never seen him with a toy gun, they believe he must have found it somewhere. They say he was mentally disabled after a brain injury as a child and that he has never been violent.

“They could tell him to drop the gun, they say they told him to drop it and he raised his hand, he probably raised his hand to hand them the gun because he is afraid of police,” said Harding.

The family is demanding answers and changes to the North Miami Beach Police Department.

“They should train these police officers better,” said Harding. “This is ridiculous, they just go around killing people for nothing.”

Police maintain the toy gun appeared to be a real rifle. One officer is on administrative leave while police and the state attorney’s office investigate.

More from Natalia Zea
  • FYI

    Some toy guns look very real. I was on a police call where a person from another agency stopped after seeing a teen point a gun at another. The teen followed instructions given and dropped the gun. I saw it and it looked very real. If the teen would have not followed orders he could have ended up shot and possibly killed.


    What was it AGAIN. A FAKE PERSON carrying a REAL GUN.

  • Knoel Scott

    If you are a Black Man in America you can be President but dont get caught with a toy gun

    • Jerrry Lee

      This was not, until now, an issue of race! If that man was white, hispanic, black, green, you name the color….I believe the officers reaction would have been the same. Unless that TOY GUN was painted red or contained a red tip or I had some independant knowlege that it was a toy I, as a law enforcement officer, also would have taken the same action. That officer percieved that this man was a threat to the public and himself so he took the necessary action to nullify the threat. Unless he spoke to the victim/suspect prior to the shooting then that officer had no way to tell that the man he shot was suffering from mental issues. If you point a gun at me I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later. I plan to go home at the end of the day! I don’t know if you have been watching the news lately but officers are being killed almost daily and all that MOST officers are trying to do is protect you, your family, and the public. When the general public hears or sees a man with a gun they run or hide. We law enforcement officers head to the threat and place our lives on the line to save lives. Therefore I think your racist coment is based on ignorance.

      • Pat

        sorry for the famlily loss but u walk around the street with a toy gun that looks real your going to get shot. thanks to all are brave police officers out there trying to protect us.

  • Poste

    Sorry for your lost, but a gun is a gun real or not. I know your angry but don’t blame the police…. If he was mentally disable who was supervising him, who let him out…. The officer were only trying to keep the community safe… Your community safe… Write to the toy company that made the gun and ask then the reason why something that is a toy looks so real… You could blame the whole world but at the end the act was done. We don’t shoot people just because, remember we have families to, don’t know what to tell you. If it was you there infront of a person holding a rifle what would you have done … Ask your self that question before blaming some one elses actiongs… Once more sorry for your lost …

    • longwaytogo

      This issue is this. We want every community to be safe. We want the police to be safe. But the police are supposed to be trained professionals. They are trained in both lethal and non-lethal force. So how long was this “stand off’?? Were negoitators called in??? Did they try using non lethal weapons like tear gas or a stun gun or pellets??? I’m sorry. I agree that from a distance I (as a layperson not trained in guns) may not have been able to tell a real gun from a fake one….but I assure you I know someone trained in guns can choose where to fire at their target. And what was he saying, did he look fearful, confused (like someone who is mental disabled would look if they were scared)…Was he sweating and talking crazy like someone on drugs would do….or was he threatening the police or someone by actually making a threat and motioning as if to carry out that threat??? We will need to see a tape I guess to know for sure, but I assure you the reason people of color get upset when something like this happens, is because we watch plently of scenes where this plays out differently, ususally for white skinned folks. It that was a 40 yr old blond mom looking like person, I guarantee they would not have gunned her down. period.

    • This is not a racial issue

      Poste-Thank you for the well written thought provoking post. Some people just cannot see things from a police officers point of view.

      Hoffa-If you were the officer in this situation, would you risk getting close enough to use a taser? I wouldn’t

      Pontoon-Would you risk your life to find out if the gun was a toy or not? i dought it.!

    • pontoon

      to poste; would you feel the same if it was your son? i doubt it.!

  • Mike Young

    These Police are idiots. First, the man DID NOT nor could not fire on the idiots. The one firing the shots should be charged with murder or at the very least manslaughter. He should NOT be receiving pay while on leave. Also, you can rest assure, the police will “Doctor” they’re reports to cover this rogue idiot excuse for a cop. The City of North Miami should pay dearly for this horrible incident.

    • Dany

      They are not idiots, there corrupted they know what they doing. Once u kill u want to keep killing that what’s going on with the miami police department. That’s why I’m with Thomas regalado to clean up some pigs, I’m sorry alot of pigs.

  • Dany

    They protecting the community? Or they murdering people, I guess they have the right to kill any1 they want. We keep seen this over n over again, regalado needs to stop this corrupted cops. They to stop killing innocent people STOP. Why they have Tasers ? Use them. Really a plastic gun? I mean u suppose to be a professional in your jobs and part of that jobs is knowing about guns, real guns knowing how to use them n when to use them, not use them to kill innocent or disable people they are people 2 don’t matter if u black, white or hispanic. sTOP killing people this is everweek.

  • george

    the familly should be charged for neglect and if u point a gun at me im gonna fire back without taking a chance on being shot. Plus the neighborhood was probably a high crime rate area quit bllaming everything on the police becuz hewas black

  • George Johnson

    Wow danny. Did you even GO to school?

    There’s a lot of pathetic people posting here. I carry a gun, and *I* can tell you, if somebody points a realistic looking refile at me, I’m dropping them. You don’t know how long the cops had to act. They got a report of a man with a gun, and came across a “man with a gun”. If they told him to drop it, and he raised it up, even to give it to them, he’s gonna get shot because they don’t KNOW what he’s doing! They re NOT MIND READERS! (or for danny there, they IS not mind readers)

    There is a time and a place for TASERS, THIS was NOT one of them. I would never point a TASER at somebody else that had a rifle that shot bullets! That’s insane! Pepper spray is even MORE insane! Suppose it’s a real gun, now your life depends on a spray and a dart gun. NO thanks.

    Face it, you people just hate cops and anything they do. but you know what??

    If they just left your neighborhoods alone, you’d just turn it into a slum and a hell hole that NOBODY wants to go into. Then you’ll be whining because “the cops never come here, that’s why crime is so high! get me out of here!!”

    And just supposed (and for danny again, that means make believe) that man actually wasn’t mentally disabled, and DID have a REAL gun, and was going to shoot somebody. Say an ex lover or wife he was stalking.

    Then you’d be whining because they DIDN’T SHOOT HIM!! You’d be crying because that ex-lover just got killed, why oh why didn’t the cops shoot him!!!

    I’m sorry the man got shot. It’s sad for anybody to lose a family member. But….

    You people make me sick. Really. You can’t have it both ways. And you people always want to have it your way, no matter what way that is, at any one time. ALWAYS. You sound like children, you want your way, NOW, but nobody knows what you way is, and when you don’t get it, you start whining. Then the rules change tomorrow, and we have to guess what your way is all over again.

    My God, just grow up….

    • Sookie Stackhouse

      George, please define “you people.”

  • austin williams

    i dont think this cop should of fired on him “yet” if he were to ignore the cops request then i would shoot. also if this guy pointed the gun at animals or humans and made threats i would shoot him to. how do you no if its fake or not? you never no what people are capable of….

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