Ceremony to remember Matthew Graves set one year since his death

EAGLE POINT, Ore.– Thursday will mark one year since 33-year-old Matthew Thayer Graves’ death. The district attorney says Graves didn’t comply with officers commands and a physical struggle ensued.

But family and friends say he had a mental illness and police used excessive force. Five of 7 grand jurors said the officer who fired the fatal shots acted lawfully in his use of deadly force – enough to clear him.

But the family is pursuing civil action to ensure something like this never happens again. The attorney for the family of Graves says they cannot comment since they’re currently in litigation with Eagle Point.

According to the settlement offer NBC5 News obtained this summer, Graves’ parents have been offered just over a million dollars. The family turned it down and filed the civil suit arguing Graves was deprived of his Fourth Amendment civil rights leading up to the shooting.

Friends of the family who knew Graves shared their thoughts one year since his passing.

“When I found out what had happened I was pretty angry,” said Tina Sandoval, a friend of the family who knew Graves for years.

One year ago this Thursday will mark a tragic moment for friends and family of the 33-year-old from Eagle Point. He was shot and killed by Eagle Point Police on September 19, 2018 in the bathroom of a Carl’s Jr.

Sandoval knew Graves since he was in middle school with her daughters – the whole family took the news of his passing very hard.

“His smile just lit up a room,” she said. Sandoval described Graves as an easy-going, fun-loving guy. “He was very funny and had a heart, huge – and was always doing something for somebody else.”

He was like a son to her and she still has difficulty thinking about how he died.

“Constantly just battle with it in my mind,” she said. “I wish there was something that we could do to bring him back, to have avoided it but I mean he’s gone.”

Friends and family say Graves had schizophrenia. Sandoval says it developed slowly but got worse.

“After a few years, he got to where he just was around his family,” she said. “He really didn’t want to talk to anybody or see anybody.”

Eagle Point Police say Graves was not complying with an officer and ended up in a physical struggle. A second officer showed up and during the fight saw what he thought was a gun. It was, in fact, a taser. Graves was shot twice in the back.

Several members of the grand jury felt the officer’s taser looked too similar to a gun. Eagle Point Police have since made changes to its tasers. The department confirmed this week it has placed fluorescent markings on all its tasers to ensure they’re able to differentiate between their tasers and their guns.

Sandoval also believes if there had been more training on how to handle someone with mental illness this could all have been avoided.

“Especially training on how to de-escalate,” she said. “That was one of the things that instead of de-escalating the officer escalated.”

One year later though, Graves’ friends and family hope action is taken.

“It wouldn’t have even gotten that far had the officer had better training to recognize the mental illness,” she said.

So nothing like this ever happens again.

Eagle Point Police was unavailable to talk on Wednesday about its training to deal with mental health.

A ceremony to remember Graves will be held tomorrow at 7:45 p.m near the Banner Bank in Eagle Point. Organizers hope to share memories of him and raise awareness of the injustice they believe surrounds his death.

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