The parents of a mentally ill man shot to death Sept. 19 by Eagle Point police inside a Carl’s Jr. bathroom have filed a wrongful death suit against the city alleging that Officer Daniel Cardenas and the city are culpable in the death of 33-year-old Matthew Thayer Graves.
The lawsuit filed by Michael and Vicki Graves alleges that Eagle Point was negligent in its choice of stun gun color — black, the same as an officer’s gun — and inadequate training of officers, and that Cardenas violated their son’s Fourth Amendment constitutional rights when he tried to arrest Graves over a jaywalking violation.
The lawsuit also claims Cardenas escalated the situation with Graves, who suffered from schizophrenia, and that Cardenas worsened Graves’ injuries by dragging and cuffing him after shooting him twice in the back.
“In this case Cardenas was himself the first aggressor and provoked Matthew’s mild reaction,” according to the complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court. “When Cardenas entered the restroom, pistol drawn and aimed at Matthew, and then screamed obscenities and commanded Matthew to show his hands and to get on the ground, and then shot him with a Taser, Cardenas’ unjustified, unreasonable and illegal aggression created the very crisis for which he later claims to have needed to use deadly gunfire.”
A grand jury ruled 5-2 in October that the shooting was justified, clearing Cardenas of any criminal wrongdoing. An internal police investigation determined that Cardenas violated no internal policies or procedures.
Jackson County Jail arrest logs, which identify arresting police officers, show that Cardenas was on the job this week.
A transcript of the grand jury hearing made available by the District Attorney’s Office earlier this week shows that the jurors were instructed only to focus on the “moment when he (Cardenas) fires.”
Lawyers Kelly Andersen and David Linthorst, both representing the Graveses, said the family supports law enforcement and thanked officers for the difficult jobs they do. They chose to file the lawsuit to bring “accountability and consequences” to Eagle Point’s police department, according to a prepared statement.
“This isn’t a broad critique of law enforcement,” Linthorst said.
“They want to be sure this never happens again to anyone, ever,” Andersen said, adding later that the wrongful death case is “about a situation that is an aberration.”
The lawsuit claims that Graves was unarmed at the time he was shot, conflicting with testimony by backup officer Clarence “C.J.” Davis, who told the grand jury that Graves had fired Cardenas’ duty Taser into Davis’ left hand.
Andersen elaborated on what he and Linthorst described as “significant discrepancies” between the testimony and police body-cam footage.
Davis testified that Graves punched him hard enough that it “rang my bell a little bit,” and that he briefly lost consciousness, and that Graves fired the black, pistol-shaped Taser at Davis.
Andersen and Linthorst highlighted grand jury testimony by Jackson County sheriff’s Detective Gabe Burchfiel, who testified he observed no injuries on Davis at the scene of the shooting.
“I personally did not see any injury to him,” Burchfiel testified. “I saw the pictures later and saw that he had a cut or some blood on his face, and I didn’t see anything in the aftermath of that, no.”
Davis testified that he called out to Cardenas, “I’m getting zapped,” but no such statement can be heard on the body cam video.
“The body cam footage does not even hint that Davis had been Tased,” Andersen and Linthorst’s statement says.
In a follow-up email, Andersen said Davis’ testimony to the grand jury was “expansive in adding details far beyond what he actually said” in the body cam video.
“Instead of, ‘There’s a gun. Oh, it’s a Taser’ (body cam video), he now places the Taser ‘in the subject’s hand’ (grand jury testimony),” Andersen wrote. Whereas on the body cam video Davis says nothing between ‘there is a gun’ and ‘oh, it’s a Taser,’ to the grand jury, Davis expands by saying he saw the Taser ‘lifting up pointing at my stomach-chest area.’ At one point Davis told the grand jury that the Taser went off when he ‘pushed it [the Taser] off line’ meaning out of the way, yet later he said it fired during the struggle and that ‘the subject pulled the trigger.’”
“Given the many discrepancies between what the officers told the grand jury and what the body cam video shows, and given that Matthew cannot speak for himself, we do not know if Matthew ever touched the Taser, or even if it was fired at all during the time the officers had Matthew on the ground.”
The lawsuit lists no potential damage amount, leaving it up to a jury.
“Under the law, a federal jury is to determine the full and fair value of all such losses,” the lawsuit says.
Public Facebook posts show that Vicki Graves is still reeling from the loss of her son.
In a post Wednesday, she described decorating their Christmas tree without Matthew, and finding her son’s Baby’s First Christmas ornament from 1985.
“If we could see into the future, we would not have moved to Eagle Point,” she wrote. “Then this would not have happened.”