A Cleveland family is still trying to find answers after 21-year-old Thomas Yatsko was shot and killed over the weekend by an off-duty police officer.
According to Cleveland.com, Yatsko, who had turned 21 less than two months ago, was killed Saturday by Sgt. Dean Graziolli, who was working security at the Corner Alley bowling alley and bar.
Yatsko’s mother, Melissa, was shocked when she discovered what had happened to her son. She said that no one had contacted her about her son until news reporters began calling her Tuesday morning.
She didn’t think it unusual that he hadn’t come home, since Thomas often spent time at his girlfriend’s house.
“I just don’t understand,” she said.
Cleveland police spokesperson Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said that officers tried to contact Thomas’ father, who does not live with Melissa Yatsko, several times. Officers even apparently left a note on the father’s home.
According to police, the situation started around 11 p.m. Saturday when Thomas Yatsko reportedly got into a fight. The brawlers, including Yatsko, were kicked out of the bar.
Police say that Yatsko then returned and attacked Graziolli, who pulled out his gun and fired the fatal shots. A witness told the news site that he heard two gunshots.
One witness called 911 from the bar, telling dispatchers that she saw Yatsko and a friend fighting before they were both kicked out. Graziolli was the one who escorted them out of the bar. One of the two friends who were kicked out told the officer to “leave him alone” because he was cooperating, the witness told the dispatcher, according to Cleveland.com.
The caller noted that the off-duty officer then got into a fight with a customer before shooting him. The woman said that Yatsko was awake after the shooting and breathing but was bleeding heavily. Nurses at the bar tried to help him and get the bleeding to stop.
Yet another caller told the dispatcher that Graziolli never tried to use his stun gun or an alternative method during the apparent fight. Officials have not confirmed whether Graziolli tried to use lesser force before firing his weapon.
Ciaccia did confirm, however, that a preliminary investigation into the incident showed that Yatsko was unarmed. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department is now investigating the shooting.
Graziolli’s union said that the officer suffered injuries, including cuts and bruises to his head, face and body, during the altercation.
The sergeant is currently on administrative leave and has been placed on light duty in the department’s gym until the Sheriff’s Department finishes its investigation.
In the meantime, Yatsko’s family and community are left to remember a young man who enjoyed helping people and putting smiles on their faces.
During the most recent winter storm, he made it a point to go around shoveling his neighbor’s driveways and helping the homeless.
According to Cleveland.com, a few days ago Yatsko, who was working full time at Dunkin’ Donuts, noticed a homeless man counting pennies just trying to buy a single doughnut. The man came up short, but Thomas gave him six doughnuts, free of charge.
“He always would do that for people who didn’t have money,” his mother said. “He told me that day, ‘These people come in and they’re so miserable, and I just want to make them smile.’”
Regular customers would often ask for him by name, Michelle Yatsko added.
He had stopped working at Dunkin’ Donuts to take a job at PCC Airfoil in Mentor, Ohio, inspecting metal used to make industrial gas turbines, but after his car broke down and he couldn’t make the commute, he returned to Dunkin’ Donuts.
PCC promised him that his job would be waiting for him if he got his transport organized.
“They loved him there,” she said.
He was also a great role model and father figure to his two younger brothers, 17-year-old Anthony and 16-year-old Tyler, encouraging them to go to college, the site notes.
“He was a good mentor,” Anthony said of his brother. “He was hard on us. He always told us, ‘Don’t make mistakes.’”
Read more at Cleveland.com.