By TOM HAYS – NEW YORK (AP) — An unarmed, mentally ill teenager died in a hail of 20 bullets fired by police officers who mistook a hairbrush he was holding for a gun, authorities said Tuesday. Officers were responding to a frantic 911 call by the victim’s mother when the shooting occurred. In the call, police said 18-year-old Khiel Coppin could be heard yelling in the background, claiming he had a gun. They also said the five officers opened fire believing the black hairbrush in his hand was the weapon.
The killing of an unarmed victim in a hail of police gunfire evoked memories of previous high-profile incidents: the 50-bullet barrage that killed the unarmed Sean Bell on his wedding day in November 2006, and the 1999 killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was hit by 19 of the 41 shots fired by police in the Bronx.
Members of the victim’s family planned to speak out about the shooting later Tuesday at a news conference organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton. “The circumstances of how it occurred at this point is under investigation and you can rest assured that we will take this very seriously,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Officers received the 911 call from the teen’s mother around 7 p.m. Monday, police spokesman Paul Browne said. When officers arrived at the Brooklyn apartment building, they could see Coppin pacing inside the first-floor apartment. His mother was outside.
The teen’s mother had attempted to have him hospitalized earlier in the day, Browne said. He said the teen had a history of mental illness. Coppin began screaming from a first-floor window at his mother and officers before climbing out of the apartment window and heading toward the officers with the hairbrush in his hand, police said.
The officers ordered him to stop, Browne said. When the teen refused and kept approaching them, they began shooting, he said. Police said it was not immediately known how many of the 20 bullets struck Coppin, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. The police union was quick to come to the officers’ defense.
“This is an unfortunate situation where the deceased convinced everyone involved — from family members to responding officers — that he was in possession of a gun,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch. “Tragically, he sought and succeeded in forcing a deadly confrontation with police.”