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St. Petersburg cop fired after using Taser on man lying down

Officer Matthew Cavinder used his Taser several times even though the 64-year-old man “was not physically resisting in a way that warranted” the weapon’s use.
A screenshot of body camera video showing Officer Matthew Cavinder using his Taser on a man who minimally resisted arrest. A police review board fired Cavinder, the agency announced Thursday.
A screenshot of body camera video showing Officer Matthew Cavinder using his Taser on a man who minimally resisted arrest. A police review board fired Cavinder, the agency announced Thursday. [ St. Petersburg Police Department ]
Published Jan. 27|Updated Jan. 27

A St. Petersburg police review board fired an officer after body camera footage showed he used a Taser on a man who was lying down.

Officer Matthew Cavinder used his Taser several times even though Timothy Grant, 64, “was not physically resisting in a way that warranted” the weapon’s use, according to a department news release issued Thursday. The extent of Grant’s resistance was pulling back his arm when officers tried to handcuff him, according to body camera video of the arrest.

Cavinder’s supervisor reviewed the use of force, which is standard practice, and immediately forwarded it to the department’s Office of Professional Standards to initiate an internal investigation, the news release said. The agency will also notify the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to decide whether Cavinder should keep his law enforcement certification.

Cavinder had worked for the department since March 2020 and was assigned to District 3, which encompasses neighborhoods in the westernmost part of the city.

Related: St. Petersburg officer disciplined for using Taser on man lying on ground

Just before 5 p.m. on June 20, Cavinder responded to a Chevron gas station at 4890 22nd Ave. S to issue a trespassing notice to a panhandler, according to police.

The officer spoke with Grant, who was in a wheelchair, and learned he had outstanding warrants for failing to appear in court on other charges. Court records show those charges include drug possession and battery on a law enforcement officer stemming from a May 2020 arrest that started with a bicycle violation. A judge signed a warrant for Grant’s arrest after he didn’t show up for an October 2020 hearing for the charges, according to court records.

Cavinder told Grant, of St. Petersburg, he was arresting him and explained why, according to the body camera video footage. Grant appears confused. He asks repeatedly what he was being arrested for and asks the officer to call his mother.

Cavinder and another officer grab his arms, and Cavinder asks Grant if he’s going to get up, “because if he doesn’t,” Cavinder appears to say to the other officer, “I’m going to tase him.”

Grant says he’ll get up. The other officer, who is not named in the news release, tells him to bring his legs in while they try to help him out of the wheelchair. Then, Grant tells them he can’t walk. Cavinder tells him to get on the ground.

Grant sits down with his legs in front of him. The officers try to pull his hands behind his back to cuff him while Grant keeps asking why he’s being arrested.

“You have a warrant for your arrest. Stop resisting or you’re going to get tased,” Cavinder says, holding the Taser to Grant’s left shoulder blade.

Grant lies down, continuing to ask why he’s being arrested, and Cavinder continues to threaten him with the Taser. The officers lift him back into a sitting position and try to pull Grant’s hands behind his back, but he pulls his right arm away.

“Put your hands behind your back,” Cavinder says, then, “You’re going to get tased.”

After a few more seconds struggling with Grant’s right arm, Cavinder presses the Taser to Grant’s back and starts to use it on him. Grant yelps “ow” several times and, after about 5 seconds, Cavinder stops.

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Cavinder uses the Taser three more times, for between 2 and 5 seconds each time, as Grant yells in pain. Then the video ends.

Cavinder arrested Grant on a charge of resisting an officer with violence, a felony, according to court records. He wrote that Grant “was unwilling to allow officers” to handcuff him. At no point does Grant hurt or threaten to hurt the officers, according to the video, which is the standard in Florida law for that charge.

Prosecutors in July downgraded the charge to resisting an officer without violence, a misdemeanor, court records show. Grant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the time he had already stayed at the Pinellas County jail — 28 days — and a $500 fee.

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