It has been six months since a mentally ill and disabled man was killed by police while allegedly trying to grab an officer’s gun in North Philadelphia, and a police investigation into the matter is still underway.
But new Philly DA Larry Krasner, in a discussion with police cadets last week, described a situation exactly like the one that ended in the death of Tyreas Carlyle, 31, as an “honest mistake.”
“We can all look at that with hindsight and say, ‘My goodness, maybe something could have been done,’” Krasner said in a video of the Feb. 28 talk, after describing what he now says is a hypothetical case, but which was virtually identical to Carlyle’s fatal shooting on Aug. 11. “That does not mean those officers committed a crime. That does not mean there is any disciplinary violation. What that means is officers acting with limited information under a whole lot of time pressure made an honest mistake. And this district attorney’s office is not going to second-guess that.”
Krasner’s office on Monday said the investigation into the Carlyle shooting was still underway, and denied that Krasner’s comments reflected a final determination in the case.
“DA Krasner's recent talk with police cadets included a mixture of hypothetical and real-world examples of the kinds of cases that occur in the field. He intentionally did not use any specific case information, for example the names of officers, defendants or the location of the various incidents, during his speech,” spokesman Ben Waxman said via email. “The office has not announced any decision on the Tyreas Carlyle case, so it would be inappropriate to comment further. When the final decision is made, we will provide the public with that information.”
Krasner did not refer to Carlyle by name, but mentioned multiple details specific to the Carlyle case, specifically that police responded to a phone call about a mentally ill man who required a walker to get around attempting to steal a family member’s car (Krasner says “mother,” but Carlyle’s grandmother called 911).
After three officers responded to the scene, while seated within the car, Carlyle allegedly tried to grab an officer’s gun and was fatally shot.
“He ends up shot to death in the car, even though he was mentally ill, even though he never got control of the firearm, he ends up shot to death in the car, under circumstances where there is no officer to blame,” Krasner said in the video. “None of these officers did the wrong thing. There were some mistakes that were made, and one of the mistakes that was made was this almost immobile man is approached with a gun, and a gun is shown within arm's reach, and so he grabs the gun, and is therefore killed.”
In contrast, as an example of criminal behavior, Krasner described an officer lifting a handcuffed man and throwing him into a pole — as former police Officer James Yeager was caught doing on cellphone video, also in August 2017, before being charged with simple assault on Feb. 28.
“These are real cases,” Krasner later stated in the video.
The Philadelphia Police Department, which since January 2017 has deployed a new Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit to review such cases, also said the case is still under investigation.
“Clearly, he is still getting adjusted to the job and I think on some level he may still be making amateur mistakes. This appears to be one of them, but people should be patient with him,” said Chris “Flood the Drummer” Norris, a local journalist and activist. “The language appeared to be declarative, it appeared to be final. If he’s now clarifying this and saying, ‘It was a mistake,’ I’m glad to hear that, but he has to be careful, and he needs to give an update on the Tyreas Carlyle shooting, just to put the community’s mind at ease, because we haven’t heard anything since the shooting."
Watch Krasner's talk below (relevant portion at 3:15):