Family grieves for handicapped man killed by Philly cops

Family photo of Tyreas Carlyle, who was shot by police August 11, 2011

The family of the man police shot to death in North Philadelphia on Friday acknowledged that he had reached for an officer’s gun, but questioned whether that should have been met with deadly force.

Tyreas Carlyle, 31, was killed as he struggled with police who had responded to a report of a car theft shortly after 5 p.m. Friday in the 3100 block of Darien Street.

On Saturday, his family gathered to remember him and mourn their loss.

“To me, maybe I’m wrong, but I just wish that they hadn’t shot him up like that,” said his grandmother Hester Carlyle, breaking into tears as she sat on her living-room sofa. As she spoke, she wrapped her arm tightly around her great-grandson, T.J., 7, Tyreas Carlyle’s only child.

She and other family members recalled Carlyle as a troubled man who struggled with drugs and had had many brushes with the law. Court records show more than a dozen arrests and six convictions — for drug possession, simple assault, driving under the influence, and fleeing police.

Carlyle’s life was perilous and painful, his family said, but he had overcome much. He had been shot four previous times in the last five years, said his grandmother, who raised him in her Darien Street home near Allegheny Avenue after his mother died of a drug overdose. After taking a bullet to his back, Carlyle had to use a walker, she said, and could barely raise himself from a seated position, having to lean on his walker to do so.

The day before Friday’s shooting, Carlyle had been shot at in front of his home, his grandmother said. He emerged uninjured but shaken, she said. He wanted to leave the area to be with his son, who lives in Hunting Park, his grandmother said. So on Friday he tried to get into a pickup truck that was parked on the street. Alarmed, she said she called the police but was soon able to coax her grandson back into the house.

Then, she said, Carlyle took her car keys from her purse and headed back outside toward her Nissan Altima.  “I was trying to stop him,” she said. “I was saying, ‘No, no, no, no. You can’t use the car.’ I was afraid if he used the car he would have hit somebody or gotten into trouble because he was not in his right state of mind.”

When the first officer arrived, she said, Carlyle grabbed at the officer’s holstered gun while seated in the car. The officer tried to take Carlyle’s hand off the gun and told him to move his hands, “but my grandson wouldn’t take his hands off the gun,” Hester Carlyle said. The officer called for backup, she said, and three uniformed police officers arrived.

“Three cops got out of the car, they came toward my grandson, and took their guns out,” she said, breaking into sobs. “By the time I moved out the way, they started shooting. They shot him four or five times. I didn’t hear them ask any questions; they didn’t ask what was going on.”

When they shot him, she said, he was seated in her car, his feet on the street.

Police disputed that account. They said Carlyle was struggling with the first officer’s gun when two backup officers arrived, drew their weapons, and repeatedly ordered Carlyle to let go of the officer’s gun. He briefly let go, they said, then grabbed a second officer’s gun. While Carlyle was holding the barrel of that gun, police said, the officer fired it. The two other officers fired shots as well, they said, and Carlyle was shot in the torso and legs. He was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:51 p.m.

The officers will be reassigned to desk duty while Internal Affairs and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office investigate the shooting.

On Saturday evening, Mayor Kenney pledged a thorough review of the circumstances of the shooting. In the future, he said, the city would release a written statement on all officer-involved shootings within 36 hours of the incident.

“My prayers are with the family and friends of Tyreas Carlyle,” he said in a statement. “It is always tragic to lose someone you love.”

The mayor said the investigation would move swiftly and added: “I look forward to them coming to a speedy resolution for the sake of Mr. Carlyle, his family, the officers, and for Philadelphia.”