MEDFORD, Ore. — A grand jury has cleared two Eagle Point Police officers of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a man during an altercation at a Carl's Jr. restaurant in September.
Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert held a press conference on Wednesday at her office in Medford, where she explained the grand jury's decision and the sequence of events that investigators believe led to the shooting of 33-year-old Matthew Thayer Graves.
"After deliberating for about fifteen minutes, they decided that the officer acted lawfully," Heckert said of the grand jury proceedings. "That was their decision to make, whether there would be any criminal charges against the police officer."
There were seven grand jurors. Five of them agreed that the officers had acted lawfully in their dealings with Graves.
According to Heckert, the first officer to interact with Graves was Officer Cardenas. The officer sought to talk to Graves after witnessing him jaywalking through an intersection near the Carl's Jr. Heckert said that Graves "wouldn't really engage" with Cardenas, but shouted profanities at him before entering the restaurant, heading for the men's bathroom.
Officer Cardenas followed Graves into the bathroom of Carl's Jr. Heckert says that Cardenas drew his gun before walking through the door. He then tried to "have a conversation" with Graves, to which Graves was only partially responsive.
Heckert said that Graves was washing and drying his hands when Cardenas entered, so "having seen his hands," the officer holstered his gun and pulled out his taser. In response, Graves pulled out money and said that he wanted to go eat.
Graves reportedly tried and failed to push past the officer several times, but Cardinez ultimately responded by hitting Graves with the taser.
"The probes hit Mr. Graves' chest and arm," Heckert said, "and they don't make a good connection, for whatever reason."
At that point, Heckert said, backup arrived for Officer Cardenas in the form of Officer Davis — another Eagle Point Police officer.
Heckert says that when Davis arrived, Graves punched him in the face — knocking him to the floor. Officer Cardenas then rushed Graves, taking them both to the ground as well. Sometime during the resulting struggle, Cardenas' body cam is knocked off of his chest and lays face-up on the ground.
At that point, Heckert said, Officer Davis was disoriented. He saw a black object on the ground, and believed it to be a gun. It was actually Cardenas' taser.
Davis saw Graves' hands going for the "gun," and he struggled with Graves' hands in an attempt to knock the weapon away.
"Officer Davis announces something to the effect of 'he has a gun' or 'there's a gun,'" Heckert said. "At that moment, the thing that they believe was a gun is a taser — and it deploys."
Both of the officers claim that they did not pull the trigger on the stun weapon, so Heckert concluded that Graves pulled the trigger.
According to Heckert, Officer Davis — who is now getting tased as his hand was held over the weapon — then cries out that "it's a taser."
"But Officer Cardinez has already heard 'gun,' 'is it a gun,' 'gun'...and Officer Cardenas is now unholstering his firearm and he shoots Mr. Graves twice," Heckert said.
Officer Cardenas shot Graves twice in the upper back, killing him.
Shortly after that, Heckert said, body cam footage reveals the two officers sorting out the confusion over the taser that led to the shooting.
Both officers testified that, in the moment, they believed that Officer Davis' life was in danger from the "gun." According to Heckert, the grand jury expressed concern over the fact that the taser model used by the officers — the Taser X26P — is black and looks very much like a gun.
A toxicology report on Graves revealed that he had no drugs in his system at the time of the incident. Although Graves has had no catalogued history of serious mental illness, according to Heckert, his father has claimed that he was "diagnosed with schizophrenia" while in jail, but Graves had insisted that he was not mentally ill and may have resisted treatment.
The DA's office intends to release body camera footage from both officers on Thursday, once Graves' family has had a chance to view it.
Heckert says that 10 witnesses went before the grand jury, but all of the people that were in the restaurant at the time of the altercation — aside from the two officers — ultimately "weren't available" to testify, despite attempts by the DA's office to contact them. Heckert said that the body camera footage served as an accurate representation of what transpired inside the restaurant.