The parents of a man with schizophrenia who was shot and killed by police in a Carl’s Jr. bathroom have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Oregon city of Eagle Point, its police department and the police officer who killed their son.
The man was shot after officers say they thought the man had a gun. The officers would later realize the man was not armed, and what they mistook for a gun was a fallen Taser that belonged to the officer who killed him.
Eagle Point Police Officer Daniel Cardenas shot and killed Matthew Thayer Graves on Sept. 19. Cardenas, a 26-year-old officer who was two-and-a-half years into his first job, attempted to stop Graves for disobeying a crosswalk light. Graves would eventually lead Cardenas into the bathroom of a Carl’s Jr. just a few miles from where Graves lived with his parents.
Michael and Vikki Graves filed the lawsuit two days after the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office released transcripts from an October grand jury proceeding that ultimately led to no charges for Cardenas in the death of their son.
Matthew Graves was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012, according to his dad.
“The City of Eagle Point and the Eagle Point Police Department did not adequately train Cardenas on the subjects of lawful stops, lawful arrests, how to deal with persons having mental impairments, and the lawful limits of the use of force,” the lawsuit states.
The Eagle Point Police Department did not respond for comment in time for this report.
‘He Was Afraid Of The Police’
Matthew Thayer Graves was a reclusive guy who, in group settings, had a tendency to recede into the background. He walked routinely to the Cinemark or the local Walmart, just as he was doing the day he died.
By that point, Graves had been drug-free for about six years, according to his dad. He’d gotten in with the wrong crowd in 2010 but quit “cold turkey” in 2012.
“Which is amazing,” his father told the grand jury in October. “But he’s been clean ever since. We know that because he lived with us.”
Still, Matthew had mental illness, his father told grand jurors. A psychiatrist who worked with La Clinica in Medford had diagnosed him with schizophrenia and prescribed him medicine he didn’t like. Matthew was not aggressive, his dad said, but he was afraid of the police.
“I heard one of the complaints, or one of the statements, is that Matt was non-responsive to the officers, and because of that, they pursued the incident with him,” his dad told jurors. “I can see, from being with Matt, that and being afraid of the police, that he probably had one of these mental confusion, panicky — he got scared, probably very scared.”
His father wanted to know why police hadn’t recognized this.
“I just wish they would have backed off him and let him cool down,” he told the grand jury. “If they had done that, it would have been — we would have had a different outcome if they would have just backed off him. He was cornered. He couldn’t go anywhere; so why not back off him?”
The Stop, The Bathroom And The Final Minute And A Half
Officer Cardenas was driving southbound on Highway 62 when he encountered Graves at an intersection. It was Cardenas’ green light when he noticed Graves starting to cross as well.
“He shouldn’t have been crossing,” Cardenas testified before a grand jury.
Cardenas made a U-turn and headed toward Graves. He waited for traffic to clear and pulled into the intersection. He turned on his lights and activated his body camera. “And that’s when my contact with him began,” he said.
Cardenas testified repeatedly about being confused about Graves’ responses to his commands. He told a grand jury he planned to talk to Graves about not crossing a street in the middle of a green light. (He’d talked to multiple people at that intersection before about the same thing.) But never before, Cardenas said, had he encountered someone who told him what Graves did: “You’re not stopping me.”
Cardenas would eventually follow Graves into a Carl’s Jr. bathroom where Graves would die of two gunshots to the back.
“My fear at that point was him going into the bathroom and doing like, how can I say? Like barricading himself or luring me in there,” Cardenas testified.
Cardenas suspected Graves was attempting to rid himself of a weapon or drugs. He drew his gun and turned on the bathroom light. When asked why he drew his gun at this point, Cardenas said he’d lost sight of Graves’ hands for about two seconds.
“And in our training, it’s always repeated to us, ‘It’s the hands that kill you,’” Cardenas said. “My fear is I walk in the door, and there’s a barrel of a gun pointed at me or a knife.”
Graves was standing at the sink. The water was running. Graves looked at Cardenas’ gun and into his eyes and continued washing his hands.
“And that’s not normal behavior,” Cardenas testified.
Things escalated within seconds. The two tussled in the bathroom while Cardenas waited for backup. He’d determined Graves was hostile and wanted to fight. He didn’t want Graves to go outside where others were eating, though Graves tried to push past.
“And if I could — I can’t put it into words, his face,” Cardenas said. “Just it’s this evil look.”
Cardenas used his Taser and exchanged punches with Graves. A backup officer arrived. Then the officers say they identified a gun.
“So then the time I heard, ‘gun,’ I, I, I knew I had to do something,” Cardenas said. “I thought we were both going to get shot. I was going to shoot him first.”
The two officers never found a gun. At some point, though, Cardenas no longer had his Taser. Graves did not have a gun, they concluded later. It was Cardenas’ Taser.
In his recollection of the escalating tensions with Graves, Cardenas said he focused on mirroring Graves’ aggression.
“So at that point, in my experience as a police officer, sometimes you have to match the way people talk because you got to communicate. It’s all about communication,” Cardenas told the grand jury. “That’s when I go in there, I tell him, ‘Show me your f——— hands,’ because he’s talking to me like that, maybe if I speak to him like that, it will click; he’ll see that, okay, yeah, all right, dude, I’ll show you my hands.”
It didn’t work, Cardenas said.
Cardenas had never encountered Graves before. Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert asked if he ever considered Graves had a mental illness. Cardenas said Graves told him he was sober, and that “that’s completely out the window for me at that point,” he said.
Ultimately five of the seven grand jurors concluded that Cardenas’ actions were fully justified and in compliance with Oregon law when he killed Graves.
Less than a minute and a half had elapsed between the time Cardenas entered the bathroom and killed Graves. The jurors heard five hours of testimony.