There are numerous points along the way where 33-year-old Matthew Graves could have been more compliant, more accommodating and less difficult. For some, that would have been the obvious solution to his remaining alive, as his bad attitude didn’t help him any. But then, much as it’s likely a wiser tactic to remain alive to complain another day, even if that’s not what the Constitution requires of us, and not what the Supreme Court, in its limited wisdom, believes happens on the street when cops engage with a guy for the heinous crime of . . . jay-walking.
Eagle Point, Oregon, Police Officer Daniel Cardenas did what any normal police officer would do after killing a guy. He told his story.
Cardenas testified to a grand jury that he first spotted Graves while he was driving his patrol car on Oregon 62 around 8:45 p.m. last month and had to brake because Graves stepped into the street against the traffic light, Heckert said Wednesday. Graves went back onto the sidewalk until the officer drove off, then Cardenas said he did a U-turn after looking in his rearview mirror and seeing Graves walk across the street while the light was still green for oncoming traffic.
Cardenas followed Graves to the fast-food restaurant because he intended to talk to Graves about the dangers of jaywalking, Heckert said. He also said he suspected Graves might have had an outstanding arrest warrant or a weapon, the district attorney said.
Is it that there is so little to do in Eagle Point that jay-walking is a major offense, compelling this two-year cop to stop and lecture on its evils? The throwaway in the last quoted sentence might be distracting, as if it was the real reason, the Whren-approved pretext, except you can’t tell by looking at a guy that he has an open warrant, and there was nothing to suggest a weapon. It just makes it sound more serious.
Or Graves just annoyed Cardenas, so he decided to check him out and show him who’s boss? If Cardenas was just cruising, it gets boring, so why not screw with some mutt who pisses you off?
The officers testified that Cardenas used a Taser on Graves after Graves put his hands on him, that the stun gun had little effect, that Graves punched Davis soon after he got into the bathroom, and that Graves managed to Tase Davis with Cardenas’ unholstered Taser. They also said that Davis told Cardenas twice that Graves had a gun and that Cardenas shot Graves twice in the back.
Cardenas went into the bathroom at Carl’s, Jr., with weapon drawn, his first words being “let me see your fucking hands right now.” Not exactly the approach one would expect for a lecture on the evils of jay-walking. Not justifiable in the absence of reasonable suspicion that Graves is a threat to Cardenas, even assuming Cardenas had cause to approach Graves in the first place.
Graves went into the men’s bathroom. Cardenas drew his gun before going into the restroom, ordered Graves twice to show his hands and again asked what he was doing. Graves replied while washing his hands that he was getting food, told Cardenas to shut up.
After Graves finished drying his hands, Cardenas holstered his gun, pulled out a Taser, ordered Graves to the ground and warned he’d be stunned if he didn’t comply.
On the one hand, there is a series of “whys” that can’t be answered. Why enter with gun drawn? Why demand to see the hands of a guy who’s worst possible offense was jay-walking? Why demand he lie on the ground? Why threaten to tase this potential jay-walker? And mind you, the only evidence of jay-walking is Cardenas’ word, revealed only after he killed the guy.
But what about Graves’ right to be left alone?
Graves tried to walk past the officer and out the door, and Cardenas pushed him back, telling him to back up.
“You touch me again and you’re gone,” Graves tells Cardenas.
At this point, it had to be clear to Graves, but for his father’s explanation that he suffered from untreated schizophrenia, that he was seized, even if in violation of his constitutional rights, and pushed a threat to a cop that wouldn’t turn out well. And it didn’t.
Cardenas pushed Graves twice more and shocked Graves with the Taser after Graves pushed him. Graves recoiled while being stunned and Cardenas told him five more times to go to the ground. Graves didn’t comply and instead approached the officer.
Davis came into the bathroom at some point and then the view of what occurs is obscured as the fight between the three begins.
In seven seconds, Davis said there was a gun, Cardenas asked Graves if he had a firearm, Davis repeated that there was a gun, but then said it was a Taser, and Cardenas drew his pistol and fired. Cardenas then immediately reported the shooting to emergency dispatchers.
That Davis appears to have mistaken Cardenas’ taser for a gun, and Cardenas’ shooting was premised on his reliance on his fellow-officer’s call despite it being factually inaccurate, doesn’t save Graves’ life. It also was sufficient to relieve Cardenas of culpability for the killing.
It’s facile to say that Graves brought this upon himself, doing pretty much everything he could to be noncompliant with Cardenas. But such a view requires one to begin with the premise that people owe a duty of compliance to police officers, as opposed to police officers owe a duty of compliance with the limits of their authority, with the Constitution. And yet, this scenario supposedly started with Graves jay-walking, initiating a series of events that ended with his death.
Nobody is giving Graves a “citizen of the year” award for his actions. Even if you have the right to be left alone, the right to walk out of a bathroom, you don’t touch a cop. But the fact that this death spiral began with Cardenas’ choice of entering a bathroom with gun drawn, with orders to comply, suggests that there was no way this was going to end well. And it ended as badly as possible. Because of jay-walking.