By Edward McAllister
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police shot and killed a knife-wielding suspect as he sought to evade them through Saturday afternoon traffic and pedestrians in New York's Times Square, authorities said.
Police said on Sunday they approached Darrius Kennedy, 51, while he was smoking what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette. He became agitated, broke free from an officer's grip and pulled from his pocket a knife with a six-inch (15-cm) blade, said police spokesman Paul Browne.
Kennedy headed south, weaving through dense pedestrian and vehicle traffic, as more police officers arrived at the scene.
"He was repeatedly told throughout this period to drop the knife and we have scores of witnesses who heard the officers doing that repeatedly," Browne told a press briefing.
Kennedy was pepper-sprayed six times but did not respond. After he was again told to drop the knife, two officers fired on him, Browne said.
Twelve shots were fired, and Kennedy was hit seven times -- three times in the chest, twice in the left arm, once in the left calf and once in the groin. The two officers, who were not immediately identified, have been placed on administrative duty.
"Right when he pulled the knife, the cops drew their guns," Lincoln Rocha, 28, who was visiting from Brazil, told the New York Times newspaper. "Some people were crouching near an office building... But others took out the cellphone cameras to try and capture it."
As police officers pursued Kennedy, dozens of onlookers, including Rocha, trailed behind, he told the newspaper.
Kennedy was later pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital Center, Browne said.
The incident may stir additional controversy about the city's so-called stop-and-frisk policies, which have been criticized as targeting racial minorities. Kennedy was black.
This was not the first time Kennedy had clashed with police on New York City streets, according to Browne.
In 2007, Kennedy was arrested near the Lincoln Center performing arts complex for shouting at motorists and walking in and out of traffic. When confronted by police, he brandished a screwdriver. Kennedy was sentenced to 40 days behind bars.
The following year, Kennedy was taken to Bellevue for observation after knocking garbage cans over in Times Square.
(Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)