A rally seeking extra mental health training in the wake of a schizophrenic man’s shooting death in the upper Rogue was light on signs, but heavy on heart.
“Stop Jumping the Gun! Get Educated! #JusticeforMatt,” was but one of two signs Tuesday evening at the Rally for Mental Health Awareness outside the Eagle Point Police Department.
The rally was in reaction to Sept. 19 Eagle Point police shooting of 33-year-old Matthew Graves, following an altercation for circumstances not yet released prior to his death in a Carl’s Jr. bathroom.
Among those standing beside the mental health awareness sign was Amanda Jones of Eagle Point, who had known 33-year-old Matt Graves since high school. She recalled Graves as a kind and generous friend spanning the better part of two decades. As an example, Jones remembered when she needed help with rent when she was 19. Jones said Graves didn’t hesitate to help.
“He was just so giving,” Jones said, tears streaming down her face behind her glasses.
Much of what the demonstrators sought was already in reach, according to Jan Yost, an eight-year volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In partnership with NAMI, Jackson County Mental Health offers periodic law enforcement trainings related to mental illness and de-escalating tense situations. Yost told the demonstrators she does not know whether the officers involved had been through the trainings, but said many police, firefighting and first-responder agencies have been trained since the Obama administration.
NAMI also keeps a free library with mental health related resources at Jackson County Mental Health, along with a website with tools and resources for those caring for people with a variety of maladies.
In a tense exchange on the sidewalk near the police station, Jones told Yost she’s grateful that such resources are already there, but she’d like to see “the cops soak it up a little bit more.”
“I don’t know what needs to change, but something does,” Jones said.
As an advocate for those with mental illness, Yost said her heart’s “just been broken” over Graves’ shooting.
“I agree it’s a terrible loss,” Yost told the demonstrators.
Bruce Kelley of Eagle Point brought a sign saying “God bless our police,” and advocated for withholding judgment until the investigation is complete.
“They’re automatically assuming they did something wrong,” Kelley said. “Let the investigation go through.”
Jones attributed the sparce attendance to last-minute confusion over whether the rally was happening. One organizer canceled the original event on Facebook. Another organizer created a new event, but neither organizer showed.
Graves’ nephew Jeremy Bentson spoke for the family at the rally, saying the family appreciates how much attention their loss is getting, and that “the last thing the family wants is Matt’s name swept under the rug.” A Facebook post by Bentson’s grandmother, Vicki Graves, was shared more than 1,000 times.
“Out of this situation, I want law enforcement to confidently deal with someone who’s suffering every day” Bentson said.
Bentson is completing a move from Arizona to Eagle Point to help his grandparents with the manual labor Graves used to do. The next phase is to pick up his car from the Phoenix area this weekend.
Melissa Smith, who’d also known Graves since high school, said he was walked to town daily and was “never trouble.” She said she believes that even if Graves wasn’t in control in the restaurant bathroom, there “had to have been something different” to resolve the situation.
“I hope there’s something done about it,” Smith said.
Smith’s mother, Shelly Stewart, agreed with her daughter, saying she remembers Graves hanging out at her house.
“He was an awesome kid,” Stewart said, pausing a moment and adding, “he was a pretty good grownup.”
“It should’ve never happened, if you ask me.”
The grand jury hearing where the circumstances into what started the altercation between Graves and police could take at least three more weeks, according to Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert. Her office is still in the information-gathering stage, adding that she’s still waiting on transcripts.
“It takes a while to get those,” Heckert said.