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Parents offered $1 million in son's Eagle Point shooting death

The city of Eagle Point is offering $1 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill man killed last fall by a police officer at a Carl’s Jr.

The offer, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Medford, includes $1,000,001 to Graves’ mother and father, Michael and Vicki Graves of Eagle Point.

The offer would settle the wrongful death suit without the department admitting fault in the Sept. 19 shooting death of 33-year-old Matthew Thayer Graves, who suffered from schizophrenia, but the city pledged at least one change to “ensure an incident like this does not occur again.”

Eagle Point would agree to change police stun guns to a “bright color more easily identified,” according to the offer document filed by lawyers representing the city, the police department and Officer Daniel Cardenas.

Cardenas shot Graves twice in the back in a restroom at the fast food restaurant after he reportedly mistook for a firearm a black Axon Taser X26P stun gun used by police that had fallen on the ground.

A split grand jury ruled in October the shooting was justified, but a transcript released in December by the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office showed that the jury and District Attorney Beth Heckert described the Taser’s color as a factor that led to the shooting.

David Linthorst representing the Graves family, issued the following statement when reached for comment: “We are encouraged to see that Eagle Point Police Department is willing to change the color of its Tasers to avoid future catastrophes. But the Taser color is only one of the department’s problems that led to Matthew Graves being killed. In due course we will respond to the offer to settle the case.”

The Graves family did not specify a dollar amount in their lawsuit. Archives show the offer as significantly higher than another settlement surrounding a police shooting.

In 2006, Jackson County settled an excessive force lawsuit with the family of Mark Leroy Vincent for $135,000. Vincent, who reportedly suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was shot 13 times Nov. 20, 2000. The incident began with a routine mental health call that escalated after Vincent drew a hunting knife at his parents’ home outside Central Point. The shooting was ruled justified, and the lawsuit was the county’s first involving a police shooting, news reports said at the time.

Other families have sued for more, but weren’t successful. In 2015, the family of Elias Angel Ruiz lost a Jackson County civil trial seeking $2 million from Medford police for a shooting Jan. 12, 2012, that followed a standoff in west Medford. A 12-person jury determined that Medford police were not negligent in shooting Ruiz on a front porch in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street, in which Ruiz wore a bulletproof vest and brandished a butcher knife during what family described as “an emotional breakdown.”

Eagle Point police’s altercation with Matthew Graves differed from those wrongful death cases in that the Graves shooting didn’t begin with a call for service, but a pedestrian traffic violation.

The altercation began when Cardenas attempted to stop Graves for jaywalking across Highway 62 to the restaurant. Police body cam video showed Graves, who had long hair and often talked to himself, indirectly responding to police commands with rambling statements that contained profanity.

A public Facebook post made Wednesday afternoon showed that Vicki Graves is still struggling with the loss of her son, who lived with her and her husband, and had been on a walk for hamburgers that evening.

“I miss you so much,” Vicki Graves posted Wednesday afternoon. “The last time I saw you was on the police cam and it is so, so sad how you were treated and how no one helped you.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Matthew Graves