A witness to the fatal police shooting of a Ukrainian immigrant says she tried to tell a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer the rifle her brother held was missing a part and would not fire bullets.
“I yelled, ‘There is no part to the gun,’” Olesya Tabaka recalled. “The officer looked at me and then he fired.”
Tabaka told the Observer that Iaroslav Mosiiuk, 25, had his back turned toward the officer and did not appear to be threatening him with the gun.
She and her family say Mosiiuk was shot in the lower back about 14 seconds after an officer knocked on the door at their home in the 1000 block of Justice Avenue in north Charlotte.
Tabaka said she called 911 about 1 p.m. on March 8 because her brother was behaving erratically and looking for a gun that her boyfriend kept under a bed in a box.
“I was hoping the police would sedate him, take him to the mental hospital,” said Tabaka, a real estate agent who has lived in the United States for 10 years. “They could even arrest him. Anything, but kill him.”
The account emerges after the family and their attorney viewed police body camera footage of the encounter between Mosiiuk and Officer Brian Walsh. They viewed the video at police headquarters and say it reinforces their belief the shooting was unjustified.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did not make officials available for interviews Monday.
CMPD has previously said Mosiiuk pointed a hunting rifle before Walsh shot him. Chief Kerr Putney has said Walsh believed he faced an imminent threat. Police have not said where Mosiiuk was shot or whether body cameras recorded the encounter.
Mosiiuk’s family and their attorney say the officer’s voice is audible in the police video. According to them, Walsh can be heard telling others that Mosiiuk pointed a rifle at him.
‘He’s got a gun’
In confrontations with emotionally disturbed people, law enforcement experts say officers should, if possible, try to slow events down and buy time to gain the person’s cooperation through negotiation instead of force. But in the encounter between Mosiiuk and Walsh, they never spoke directly to one another, the victim’s family says.
That day, Tabaka said she left the house and called 911 because Mosiiuk appeared to be having a mental breakdown.
She told a dispatcher Mosiiuk hadn’t slept for days. Asked whether the suspect is having a mental breakdown or trying to kill himself, Tabaka told the dispatcher, “I think he’s having a mental breakdown ... He’s screaming he doesn’t want to to live.”
Tabaka, who had driven around the corner, said she saw two police vehicles headed toward her house and she followed.
She said the officers casually walked up to the house. Another officer knocked on the door and peeked through a window, while Walsh stood farther back.
“He’s got a gun. A long gun,” Tabaka recalled the other officer saying.
Walsh ran and took cover near a police SUV, she said. The other officer ran across the street and took cover outside another house.
Moments later, Tabaka said, Mosiiuk came to the door and took a few steps into the yard, where he was shot.
His family said they question why the officers never warned him or ordered him to drop the weapon and raise his hands.
The bolt-action rifle, a Remington .309, is owned by Eugene Conde, who is Tabaka’s longtime boyfriend. Conde said he kept the weapon under a bed and that a mechanical bolt needed to fire bullets was hidden in a locked box.
He said police searched the house after the shooting and took the locked box as evidence.
Conde said the shooting shows that CMPD officers are ill-prepared to deal with people going through mental health problems.
Family members say they don’t know what led to Mosuiik’s bizarre behavior before he died. He had no history of mental illness. He had no criminal record, they said.
But in the days leading up to the police shooting, relatives say they grew concerned because he had slept little and a friend warned them he was having problems. Mosiiuk’s father tried to convince him to move back home to Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine.
A GoFundMe page now seeks to raise $15,000 to ship his remains back to Ukraine for a funeral. Relatives held services for him Monday in Charlotte.
With a fit, slender build, Mosiiuk enjoyed winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding and adventures. Three times, relatives say, he went skydiving.
His family said Mosiiuk had master’s degree in marketing and international management and spoke English fluently, but spent his days in the Charlotte area assisting at multiple car repair shops.
Neighbors, who called him friendly, said he was often seen working on his car or helping others.
On the day of the police shooting before his behavior appeared to turn unsafe, his family said he greeted a neighbor with a smile and a big hug.