The Veterans Affairs police officer who shot Gilbert Matthew “Matt” Negrete last January described him as a man out of control — even after a shot to the chest.
The testimony of Marvin Seifert and an unserved warrant alleging Negrete was dealing drugs were among reasons why Judge Tim Barnack ruled to keep Negrete’s bail at $265,000 during a bail hearing Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Seifert told the court that the knife-wielding Negrete was undeterred by five seconds of Oleoresin Capsicum spray and continued to advance toward him.
“He told me my vest would protect my chest but it would not protect my balls,” said Seifert. “By the time I pulled my gun, he was six inches away from me.”
Seifert said he “shot him point blank,” but Negrete remained combative, prompting police to use two pairs of handcuffs to restrain him.
“He has no regard for other people. We did what we had to do,” Seifert said, his voice trembling.
Seifert’s testimony Friday in court was among multiple new developments in Negrete’s case. Negrete, his father and about six veterans’ advocates with Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace sought a reduction in Negrete’s bail, which requires a 10 percent bond of $26,500 that Negrete and his family can’t afford.
Christine Herbert, Negrete’s court-appointed defense lawyer, said that Negrete has a strong support system, and making bail would allow the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran to pursue counseling and treatment for mental health issues that include post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as related drug and alcohol problems.
“This is a guy who really needs treatment, not to be locked up,” Herbert said, adding that the VA “is willing to take him back.”
Deputy District Attorney Nick Geil cited an unserved warrant in which the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force apparently suspected Negrete of selling drugs. Geil argued that Negrete’s behavior was related to drug abuse rather than mental health.
Though she acknowledged her client struggled with drugs and alcohol, Herbert bristled.
“I respectfully disagree about him being entrenched in a drug situation,” Herbert told Barnack.
Geil further cited an incident the day before, in which Negrete pulled a butcher knife on a tow truck driver, apparently in an attempt to get his Toyota pickup back after a drunken-driving arrest earlier in the week.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Geil said.
Herbert said her client was “off his medication” and he “went to the hospital for help.”
“If he can’t get his medication, what is he supposed to do,” Herbert said.
Members of Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace said though they didn’t know him, they believe Negrete’s anger and mental health problems are typical of someone suffering from PTSD.
Balancing sympathy for Negrete with respect for police, Vietnam veteran Curtis Pugh told Barnack, “That was me 30 years ago.”
“I’m not going to disparage what happened,” Pugh said, then pointed to officer Seifert and said, “This gentleman did what he needed to do.”
Barnack told the veterans that prosecutors and the courts are aware of Negrete’s mental health problems, and that the lead prosecutor in his case, Senior Deputy District Attorney Laura Cromwell, typically focuses on cases involving mental health.
“The court has to balance helping with keeping the public safe,” Barnack said. “I’m going to leave [bail] as is.”
Outside the courtroom, Herbert told Negrete’s father and the veterans’ advocates that Negrete is on a medication regimen at the jail, but he’s not getting counseling.
“I’m concerned about the isolation,” Herbert said.
Negrete’s father, Gilbert Negrete Sr., thanked Herbert for her efforts, telling her, “I didn’t think anybody cared.”
“I absolutely care, and I’m not a vet,” Herbert said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.