Thomas Yatsko, 21, was the kind of man who wanted to make a difference. He’d often shovel his neighbor’s driveways and sidewalks for free. He also handed out free donuts to a homeless man while working at Dunkin Donuts in South Euclid, his brothers said. Thomas was always a source of positivity and advice for his brothers Tyler and Anthony Yatsko.
“He was a good example. He told us not to make the same mistakes that he made,” Tyler Yatsko said. “He told us to stay in school, don’t drop out, go to college and get our degrees. The first half of his life wasn’t so good, but he got through it. It was positive from there. He told us not to make mistakes and he just wanted to help other people out. He wanted to be great.”
Tyler and Anthony were devastated Tuesday when they found out Thomas had died. Yatsko, a graduate of Brush High School, recently turned 21. While Yatsko spent much of his time working at Dunkin’ Donuts, he often found the time to help out his neighbors with snow removal, his brothers said.
“We looked up to him. We really looked up to him,” Anthony Yatsko said. “He taught us everything we know. He made sure we had the nice things and he made sure we did the right thing and he made sure we were alright.”
Yatsko was pronounced dead at the hospital following Saturday’s police action shooting that involved an off-duty Cleveland police sergeant. That officer, Sgt. Dean Graziolli, a 26 year veteran, was working security at Corner Alley in University Circle. According to the investigation’s preliminary findings, police said Yatsko and another man began fighting inside the bowling alley. Witnesses told News 5 the fight included both men throwing glasses at each other. According to police, Sgt. Graziolli, who was in uniform, escorted the two men out of the bowling alley. Then, at some point, Yatsko returned to the business and a confrontation occurred between Graziolli and Yatsko.
According to police, Yatsko began assaulting the officer, causing injuries to the sergeant’s face and body. It is unclear how many times Graziolli fired his weapon, but witnesses reported hearing “two to three” shots. Graziolli has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the use of force investigation — standard policy for cases in which officers use deadly force.
The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department has taken the lead on the investigation. While the investigation continues, Mike Brickner, the senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, believes it highlights the need for a policy requiring officers to wear and use their body cameras while working off-duty jobs. Currently, the department only recommends that officers do so.
“This is the other tragic piece of these types of interactions, we’re never going to hear from the person that was killed,” Brickner said. “We can’t hear his side of the story. That video can help to provide more objective information.”
Last year, the city implemented the policy that only recommends the body cameras be used during secondary employment. The agreement came amidst pushback from the two largest police unions. The federal monitoring team tasked with overseeing the city’s implementation of consent decree items pushed for the policy, requiring officers to use body cameras while moonlighting. Instead, the division of police started a pilot program that featured the requirement.
However, no officer volunteered for the pilot program. Union officials pointed to major logistical issues that would need to be addressed first. The issues included whether private businesses would want to or should have to pay officers up to an additional hour to download the body camera videos after working a private security job. Secondly, the union pointed to whether officers should be downloading videos from secondary employment while on city time. Brickner said neither one of those issues should preclude the policy from going into place.
“The public doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between an officer that is on-duty and off-duty. When they see an officer, they are going to expect that the officer is wearing a body camera and there’s some level of accountability and documentation of that interaction,” Brickner said. “This can work in the community’s favor and in the officer’s favor. Simply recommending that they wear body worn cameras when they are off-duty isn’t enough. WE want to make sure that body worn cameras are used consistently, used appropriately and really that’s only done through requiring their use and having strong guidelines of their use.”