The combative man shot by police at the Department of Veterans Affairs' clinics in White City was an Army veteran who'd sought help for paranoid delusions, his family says.
Gilbert Matthew "Matt" Negrete, 34, is recovering from a serious, but not life-threatening, gunshot wound to the upper chest after he allegedly wielded a knife at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics admissions office, according to new information released Friday by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
Matt Negrete's father, Gilbert, said he drove his son to the clinic Thursday morning. It was an attempt to get his son treatment for paranoid delusions that led him to believe he was being monitored and watched.
“We've been trying to get him in there forever,” Gilbert Negrete said. “I got him there, and I didn't think that was going to happen.
“I didn’t take him there to get shot.”
At about 8 a.m. Thursday, Matt Negrete entered the SORCC admissions building in an "agitated state" and began causing a disturbance, the sheriff's office said in a release. He was making paranoid and incoherent statements, it said, contradicting earlier news reports that said he was criticizing VA policies and healthcare.
Negrete got into an altercation with a staff member at the clinic and brandished a knife. Staff and VA police officers said they attempted to calm Matt for several minutes.
His father described the knife as a paring knife.
“It’s a tiny little knife, but I’m sure to them it looked huge,” he said.
Matt Negrete's estranged wife, Alyss Maio, said in a telephone interview Friday that "he wasn't like this before he deployed." Her husband's mental health problems first manifested after he returned from a 2009 Iraq tour and a 2011 Afghanistan tour with the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, she said. He'd served as a helicopter electrician, diagnostician and technician before his honorable discharge, she said.
"Within 30 days of his coming home, it was very clear he had changed," she said.
Negrete started drinking more and harbored "a lot of anger" he wouldn't discuss, according to Maio, who has three children with him. His problems ebbed and flowed after he was honorably discharged.
Although he wasn't the same, he functioned at his best in 2013 working for Boise Cascade, she said. His progress unraveled in fall 2015, after he lost his job following an altercation with his supervisor.
By January 2016, Negrete tried to get help at the VA SORCC for suicidal thoughts, among other mental health problems, she said. No one knew that he was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol at the time, she said.
"All they did was counseling," Maio said. "He basically fell through the cracks when his counselor left."
By June 2016, Maio said, she had to get away from her husband to protect herself and her three children. She remains legally married to him in part because she wanted to ensure her husband still had access to healthcare.
“We have our own issues in our marriage, but he’s not a monster,” she said. “He’s asked for help.”
Negrete had recent run-ins with police involving reckless and tumultuous behavior, according to police reports and court records.
He was convicted earlier this month of misdemeanor second-degree disorderly conduct following a September assault arrest in Central Point for punching a man in the nose who was trying to break up a bar fight.
According to a document filed by Central Point police in that case, Negrete told police the victim was "coming at him aggressively," but witnesses said he'd been walking around challenging people in the crowd.
On Tuesday night, Medford police arrested him on a felony elude and misdemeanor drunken driving charge after he allegedly fled police in a vehicle following reports that he threw objects at vehicles.
“It’s not against the law to be crazy so they didn’t take him in,” his father said. “It’s like a failure all the way around.”
Earlier Tuesday, Gilbert Negrete had tried to admit his son to the VA. Instead, his son was prescribed Zoloft, given a Thursday appointment and released.
On Thursday morning, Gilbert Negrete found himself being hustled out of a waiting room thick with pepper spray as he heard the shot. He said he knew exactly what had happened.
“I’m sure nobody wanted that to happen, and I’m sure nobody wanted to shoot my son,” he said. “I’m just surprised they couldn’t deal with him any better than that.”
After Matt Negrete was shot in the upper chest at about 8:29 a.m., officers and staff rendered aid until Mercy Flights and Jackson County Fire District 3 medics arrived on the scene.
He remains hospitalized at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in police custody. He is in fair condition, according to Asante spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle. Upon his release from the hospital, according to the sheriff's office, he will be lodged in the Jackson County Jail on a felony charge of unlawful use of a weapon and misdemeanor charges of menacing, disorderly conduct and violating a restraining order.
The sheriff's office has not yet released the names of the VA police involved in the shooting.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.