A lawyer representing the parents of a mentally ill man shot dead by Eagle Point police in a Carl’s Jr. bathroom said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Eagle Point Police Department after seeing bodycam footage of the shooting released Wednesday.
David Linthorst, with the Medford-based law firm of Andersen Morse & Linthorst, said he was with Mike and Vicki Graves when they saw the bodycam video for the first time. It shows how their son, 33-year-old Matthew Graves, was shot twice during a struggle with two officers on the bathroom floor.
“Their reaction was a lot of heartbreak, which can be understandable for any parent who outlives their child, but also a fair amount of frustration,” Linthorst said. “As you watch this it doesn’t take a Monday morning quarterback or 20/20 hindsight to see how this could’ve gone differently at every turn.”
Linthorst said the Graveses have worked to remain “open-minded” as they grieved the loss of their son, who suffered from schizophrenia and lived with them two miles from where he died.
“The family here has been very open-minded in questioning,” Linthorst said. “You’ll note that they haven’t been making statements publicly, they haven’t been accusing anyone, they just want to know what happened.”
Linthorst said he and the Graveses believe the altercation that led to Matthew’s death on Sept. 19 was instigated and escalated by police.
Officer Daniel Cardenas fired two shots into Graves’ back during a struggle on the bathroom floor in which he and backup Officer CJ Davis believed Graves had a gun. A grand jury on Wednesday ruled 5-2 that the officers’ actions were justified.
Linthorst said he’s planning to use a wider time frame for his case than the grand jury used to determine that the use of force was justified.
“The focus that I’ve heard is on the last minute of Matthew Graves,” Linthorst said, “and I think the focus should be the last 15 minutes.”
Linthorst said he sees in the bodycam footage signs that Officer Cardenas “created this situation,” beginning with unclear instructions at the outset that would have been difficult for Graves to understand because of his schizophrenia.
Before the shooting, Cardenas had observed Graves crossing Highway 62 against the light and had tried to speak with him.
“He doesn’t tell him to stop, he doesn’t tell Matthew why he wants to talk to him, he doesn’t tell Matthew that he does want to talk to him,” Linthorst said. “He just keeps asking, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’”
Cardenas followed Graves into the bathroom at Carl’s Jr. with his Taser drawn and commanded Graves to show his hands, then to get on the ground. Graves didn’t comply, leading to his tasing and the struggle that ended in the shooting.
“Nobody said, ‘Stop, Matthew’ until he was cornered in a bathroom and a weapon was drawn,” Linthorst said.
Linthorst said Graves’ response to Cardenas was “out of the ordinary” because of Graves’ mental illness and the way it disabled him.
“Several times he’s saying ‘don’t talk to me like that,’ he’s swearing, he says something about ‘you are gods,’ he says something about Matthew’s sobriety — which is true — but is really out of context from what’s going on with the officer,” Linthorst said.
Linthorst said one of the two police officers should have noticed “something was wrong” with Graves.
“There’s no de-escalation that I can see,” Linthorst said.
An internal investigation found that both police officers followed all policies and procedures, Eagle Point police Darin May has said. The weapon Cardenas and Davis thought was a gun was actually Cardenas’ black-colored Taser, which Graves had apparently grabbed during the scuffle.
During a press conference Wednesday after the grand jury’s decision, May said his department would consider issuing a different-colored Taser and would review its policies and procedures.
Linthorst said his firm has no intention of naming Taser manufacturer Axon as a defendant in the wrongful death suit, saying the weapon was “a Taser and it was used to tase.”
“Based on District Attorney (Beth) Heckert’s statement and press release, this was a factor for the grand jury, they wished it had been yellow,” Linthorst said.
Linthorst’s firm is still awaiting the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office police report and possibly a transcript of the grand jury hearing, which Heckert said she intends to release once a stenographer completes the hearing and a court orders its release to the public.