Family seeks answers in man’s death

    COURTESY PHOTOMatt Graves, left, is shown with his brother and two sisters earlier this month at their parents’ anniversary celebration.

    The family of 33-year-old Matthew Graves say they understood his struggles with mental illness, but they have no idea why Eagle Point police shot him to death.

    Graves heard voices in his head, had conversations with himself, eschewed electronics and lived a life of household chores followed by long walks to restaurants, according to his older sister Laurie Bentson, 47, of Scottsdale, Arizona, who said his family never knew him as dangerous.

    If Graves had a weapon leading up to the shooting Wednesday night in a bathroom at the Eagle Point Carl’s Jr., Bentson said she and her parents have no idea what it could be. He had an aversion to anything metal.

    “He didn’t even use utensils, he used plastic,” Bentson said. “What’s the weapon? What happened?”

    In the years that followed his schizophrenia diagnosis in 2012, Graves had a habit of walking from his parents’ home into town where he would spend the money he earned doing household chores and collecting bottle deposits at fast food restaurants in Eagle Point and the movie theater in White City.

    “Carl’s Jr. was his new kick,” Bentson said, adding that he’d walk there five or six times a week after his chores.

    His criminal history largely surrounded drug and burglary convictions involving family members, such as an incident in 2010 when he picked up a painkiller prescription for another sister at a Medford pharmacy and kept some of the pills, or first-degree burglary for a January 2011 incident in when he took cash from his mother’s purse after being trespassed from their home on Vista Park Drive, according to Jackson County Circuit Court records.

    His last jail booking was in 2012 for violating his probation on a meth-possession conviction, according to Jackson County Jail records.

    None of the crimes were violent, Bentson said, and Graves stopped doing drugs after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the jail in 2012.

    “I’m not saying he was an angel,” Bentson said. “He was highly functional.”

    On the day of Eagle Point Police Department’s first shooting in more than two decades, Graves had helped his mother, Vickie Graves, by riding with her to the Eagle Point Walmart. She had him do the shopping while she waited in the car.

    “My mom wanted him to do that independently,” Bentson said. “We encouraged all that.”

    She made chicken tacos for dinner, but Graves decided to walk to Carl’s Jr. for some hamburgers afterward.

    “He was always around people, but he was quiet,” Bentson said. “He would just keep his head down and keep walking.”

    Bentson, who’s in Eagle Point for the second time this month — the first being for their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary — said she has no idea what led to the run-in with police.

    “He’d been walking to town since 2012, 2011,” Bentson said. “The community restaurant owners, they would know him ... he was never a threat to anybody.”

    The only recent change was that he’d grown out his hair to a grunge-type look. She’d seen him two weeks ago for their parents’ anniversary celebration. Graves was the youngest of four children.

    “That’s it. He grew his hair out, and he loved it,” Bentson said.

    Bentson said her parents are distraught, though Bentson described their father as “seeking to understand.”

    “They just want to know what happened,” Bentson said.

    Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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