Teen Killed by Cops Had Brush, Not Gun

Hiding hairbrush, teen screams "I've got a gun and I'm gonna shoot you."

February 19, 2009, 2:51 AM

Nov. 13, 2007 — -- A Brooklyn, N.Y., teenager apparently armed only with a hairbrush who died in a hail of 20 police bullets Monday night is heard screaming "I got a gun and I'm gonna shoot you," on a 911 recording released this afternoon by the New York Police Department.

Khiel Coppin repeatedly threatened to "do something bad" and was talking about suicide yesterday morning, prompting his mother to call an interfaith crisis center for assistance, according to a press conference by NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. He added that Coppin had previously been hospitalized at Kings County Hospital psychiatric ward and was taking anti-psychotic drugs.

When crisis center workers arrived at the apartment in a public housing project in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the 18-year-old African-American man had already left, said Kelly. When Coppin returned to the apartment, he refused his mother's requests to leave, picked up a tape dispenser, put it under his shirt and said he was "prepared to die," according to the commissioner.

That prompted his mother, Denise Owens, to call 911 on which a young man can be heard shouting "I got a f----- gun."

According to Kelly's account, police officers arrived at the apartment to find Coppin in the front hallway holding a knife in each hand, while his mother and her 11-year-old daughter stood nearby. He told officers that he was armed with a gun, lunging towards them and saying, "Shoot me, kill me!," says Kelly.

Coppin then moved to a bedroom at the back of the apartment, every once in a while revealing himself and holding something under his sweatshirt and yelling, "Come get me. I have a gun. Let's do this!," according to Kelly.

A few minutes later, Coppin jumped out the first-floor window and confronted police officers at the front of the building, says Kelly. When he "ignored multiple directives to show his hands," and reached under his sweatshirt and pulled out an object in the darkness of the evening, officers crouching behind parked cars fired on him.

Coppin was hit in the torso and lower leg eight times by two Hispanic and three white officers who fired 20 shots. Under his lifeless body, officers found the hairbrush he had been wielding.

Kelly called the shooting a "terrible tragedy," adding that his condolences went out to Coppin's mother and family.

The press conference was the NYPD's first decisive move to distinguish this incident from previous, controversial New York police shootings that divided the city and brought a firestorm of criticism from a number of different directions, most of which characterized city cops as trigger-happy and motivated by race.

In November 2006, an unarmed man named Sean Bell was killed after police fired 50 bullets at his car on what turned out to be his wedding day. In 1999, an unarmed African immigrant named Amadou Diallo was killed when police fired 41 shots at him. Diallo had been pulling a wallet, not a gun, out of his pocket.

The Diallo shooting prompted Bruce Springsteen to pen a song called "American Skin (41 Shots)." Though Springsteen's song was not directly critical of the police, tensions were so high in New York City when the rock icon debuted the song there at Madison Square Garden the next summer, the city's largest police union boycotted the concerts and Springsteen's music.

At a press conference held by Al Sharpton's National Action Network and Coppin's family at 4 p.m., a representative for the family disputed the police version of events, asking the public to wait for a fuller account of the incident.

"There is no credible evidence at this time that this was a suicide," the representative said when asked whether Coppin was seeking a suicide-by-cop.

"At some point in his life, he's had some mental distress but whether that affected his judgment, that remains to be seen."

Coppin had previously been incarcerated as a youthful offender and diagnosed with psychiatric problems, a source said, based on the review of a summary of a youthful offender report. To date, however, there is no indication that he had been treated since his release.

At least one neighbor reportedly challenged the police version of events. "I saw him put his hands out of the window, and then he got on top of the windowsill and sat down and jumped onto the street with his hands up and the brush in his hands," Andre Sanchez, 17, told the New York Post. "And that's when they shot him."

WABC-TV's Mark Crudele contributed to this report.

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