Video Shows Paterson Non-Violence Activist Bursting From Bathroom With Knife When He's Shot

Najee Seabrooks gripped two bloody knives, at least one of which he'd been cutting himself with in his bathroom, as a knot of Paterson police officers in tactical gear tried to talk him into surrendering, video released by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Thursday shows.

Video released by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Thursday, March 16, shows Najee Seabrooks wielding a bloody knife as he charged out of the bathroom.
Video released by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Thursday, March 16, shows Najee Seabrooks wielding a bloody knife as he charged out of the bathroom. Photo Credit: NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL

Seabrooks, a respected and admired non-violence activist, was in the middle of what family members said was apparently a drug-induced mental health crisis that March 3 morning.

He held two knives within view that he refused to let go of and told police that had a gun, which state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said he referred to as a “pocket rocket.”

He was also the one who called police in the first place, 911 calls released with the videos on March 16 show.

Seabrooks is seen in the video alternately screaming and backing away from the bathroom doorway, then simmering down and moving toward it again. He does this over and over – and never lets go of the knives.

Officers just feet away talk to Seabrooks from the hallway and the room across from it. Their tones are measured -- calm but firm.

"Naj, c'mon, let's get that medical attention for you."

"Naj, put 'em down, man. Let us get you the help you need."

The officers repeatedly tell Seabrooks to drop the knives. He doesn’t respond. He cuts himself multiple times instead.

"You got a long life ahead of you. You don't want to end it like this. You keep doing that to your arm, we can't help you."

"You gotta be in a lotta pain, man. Just stop. Stop doing that, Naj."

"Naj, stop," is heard over and again.

The standoff that began that morning is nearly five hours old when an officer offers to bring Seabrooks to his mother.

"Let's talk you to your mom. Let her talk to you. I'm sure she doesn't want to see you like this," he says.

The officer is still taking when Seabrooks suddenly bursts through the open doorway and is shot.

The fatal encounter has roiled the Silk City, with loved ones, friends and others insisting that police were unfit to handle the situation properly.

The body camera video recorded by seven different officers tells another story.

It's part of an investigation by the New Jersey Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), an arm of the state attorney general’s office, that is required whenever someone dies during a police encounter, no matter the circumstances.

The videos are routinely released early in the process, which Platkin said is intended to “promote the fair, impartial, and transparent investigation of fatal police encounters.”

The videos and 911 audio calls were shared with a family representative before being released to the public on Thursday, he said

THEY CAN BE FOUND HERE: Paterson – Seabrooks Recordings

Officers went to the Mill Street apartment at 7:43 a.m. in response to the emergency calls from a clearly distressed Seabrooks, Platkin said.

Family members told them that he was “hallucinating and behaving erratically,” the attorney general said. “At the family’s request, the officers called an ambulance.”

His loved ones brought the officers to talk with Seabrooks.

“People are trying to kill me. I need an escort," he told them from inside the bathroom.

Family members said that wasn’t the case and that Seabrooks “may have been experiencing a bad reaction to something he had smoked and that his actions were completely out of character,” Platkin said.

He had arrived around 2 a.m., grabbed some knives and locked himself in the bathroom, they said.

Paterson’s police department deployed various resources throughout the morning standoff, including crisis negotiators and the Emergency Response Team, Platkin said. A city Fire Department EMS unit also responded, he said.

“Mr. Seabrooks told the police that he had two knives and a gun he referred to as a ‘pocket rocket',” the attorney general emphasized.

“The police and family members pleaded with Mr. Seabrooks to unlock the door and come out of the bathroom so they could get him help,” Platkin said.

A police sergeant whom Seabrooks had requested arrived and told him that he wasn’t in any trouble and would be taken to a hospital to be evaluated.

“A family member was brought to the apartment to speak to Mr. Seabrooks in an attempt to persuade Mr. Seabrooks to come out of the bathroom and get help,” Platkin said. “At points, Mr. Seabrooks would briefly open the door.”

A trained negotiator, along with two police sergeants, EMS workers and family members, tried convincing Seabrooks to surrender, he said.

Seabrooks was a frontline “violence-prevention professional” with the Paterson Healing Collective (PHC), a unique hospital-based violence intervention program. He asked for his work mentor from the program but was told that couldn’t be allowed because of safety concerns created by the knives and purported gun, Platkin said.

Instead, they got him in touch with the unidentified person on the phone.

The officers also told him he could connect with that coworker in person -- as well as with family members -- “as soon as he put the knives down and came out,” the attorney general said.

Around 10:15 a.m. a loud crash was heard from inside the bathroom. Water began flooding the apartment.

“Seabrooks was cutting himself with the knives and was bleeding,” Platkin said.

The officers tried to force their way in after getting no response from Seabrooks for 10 minutes, he said, but the door apparently was barricaded.

Seabrooks was holding the two knives when the door eventually was opened. He also told the officers he “had a fully loaded gun and threatened to shoot people,” Platkin said.

Seabrooks threw various items at the officers and lighted a fire in the bathroom, the attorney general said. He also tossed an unknown liquid in the face of one of the officers, who he said had to be treated at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center.

Seabrooks at times expressed a willingness to surrender and accept the help but at another point said he’d die in the bathroom -- and would take one of the officers with him, Platkin noted.

The officers deployed more than a dozen sponge-tipped projectiles during the encounter, none of which subdued Seabrooks, he said.

Then came the fateful moment.

It was 12:35 p.m. when Seabrooks charged out of the bathroom and “lunged toward the officers with a knife in his hand,” Platkin said.

ERT Officers Anzore Tsay and Jose Hernandez fired their weapons, then removed the knife from Seabrooks’s hand after he hit the floor as EMS personnel rushed to help him.

Seabrooks was pronounced dead at St. Joe’s at 12:51 p.m., Platkin said.

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