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Why it took 2 days to ID man killed by Cleveland police, and how his mom learned of his death from reporters

January 17, 2018

Why it took 2 days to ID man killed by Cleveland police, and how his mom learned of his death from reporters

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the hours after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot a 21-year-old man who police say attacked him outside of a popular University Circle bowling alley, investigators swarmed the area, taking photos, measurements and wrangling witnesses.

Those investigators were trying to piece together what led Sgt. Dean Graziolli, a 26-year police veteran, to shoot a 21-year-old man with no criminal history.

Just down the road at University Hospitals, police officials worked on another part of the investigation: Uncovering the identity of the the young man who was killed.

It took more than two days, the help of two other police departments and the county medical examiner to identify Thomas Yatsko as the man killed late Saturday outside the Corner Alley.

Investigators reached out to Yatsko’s father, but Yatsko did not live with his father. Word of his death did not make it to his mother, Melissa Yatsko until Tuesday when reporters called her home shortly after the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner publicly identified Yatsko.

The fact that Yatsko’s mother wasn’t notified for two days after her son’s death highlights an often overlooked part of homicide and suspicious-death investigations, namely identifying someone who’s been killed, and finding and notifying their family.

Typically, word travels fast and investigators are able to make quick contact with family members who are bought to the the medical examiner’s office to view the body. That did not happen in Yatsko’s case.

Here is a run-down of the steps investigators took to identify Yatsko, according to Cleveland police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia:

Yatsko did not have an identification with him on Saturday night, and friends who were with him were unable to give police the proper spelling of his last name. They searched several different variations of what the friends told the officers, but came up empty.A co-worker of Yatsko called University Circle police on Sunday and provided a little more guidance on how his name could possibly be spelled. It was still an incorrect name. But this time, the officer ran several other variations of Yatsko’s name, eventually leading them to what would be the correct person.However, investigators needed to be sure. The last known address for Yatsko in the state-wide law enforcement database was for an address in Eastlake. They were unsure who lived at that address, or if any of Yatsko’s relatives still lived there. Cleveland police asked Eastlake police to go to the home to see who lived there. This is inline with Cleveland police’s protocol for notifying family members of a death. Eastlake officers went to the home on Monday, but no one was there. They left a note on the front door for the residents to contact Cleveland homicide detectives as soon as they arrived home.On Tuesday, the medical examiner’s fingerprint analysis came back. It was Thomas Yatsko. Around the same time, Yatsko’s father and step-mother returned home and called police and the county medical examiner.Once family notification was made, the medical examiner released his name on their website. Reporters took note and some used a public-records search to call family members, including Melissa Yatsko, who said she had not been told of her son’s death.

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