St. Pete PD chief: Officer fired for using stun gun on man who was 'not physically resisting' during arrest

A St. Petersburg officer was fired after quickly turning to his stun gun rather than following de-escalation protocol, the chief announced Thursday. Investigators said the officer used it while the suspect was "not physically resisting," but then later wrote in his report that the suspect was resisting with violence.

Back on June 20, 2021, the owner of a Chevron gas station made a trespassing request due to a panhandler at the store, located at 4890 22nd Avenue South. Officer Matthew Cavinder and his partner arrived before 5 p.m. and he found 64-year-old Timothy Grant.

They ran his name and learned he had five active warrants, one of which was for failing to appear in court. The police department released body camera footage from the second officer at the scene, showing Cavinder explain those previous charges as being drug-related.

The officers did see Grant walking around the business, but when it came time to arrest him, he was seated in a wheelchair, explained Chief Anthony Holloway. In the video, both officers were seen attempting to lift Grant out of the wheelchair. At one point, the footage showed Grant laying on his stomach in front of the convenience store. 

"Instead of using both of his hands," Chief Holloway explained, "he went right to his Taser and he started Tasering Mr. Grant."

The chief said Cavinder "dry-stunned" Grant four times, meaning he didn't activate the prongs.

"What he did was place the Taser up against his body," Holloway described. "He pulled the trigger and that does cause an electrical shock to go through the body. After that was done, he wrote a report. In the report, he said that Mr. Grant was resisting with violence…Mr. Grant was not resisting with violence."

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The chief said the police department policy is to review every use of force incident. Cavinder's supervisor reviewed the report and the body camera video and forwarded the materials for an internal investigation. 

"The victim didn’t complain. The people at the scene didn’t complain. It was the supervisor," Chief Calloway said. "I want to commend my supervisor for seeing something wrong and taking care of it."

Cavinder was hired on March 23, 2020. He had no prior disciplinary action against him. The final report will be forwarded to the state to determine whether the officer can retain his state certification, but he can make an appeal. 

Officials said there will likely be no charges filed against Cavinder since there didn't appear to be any evidence of "intent."

"I think I looked at that video over 20 times," the police chief said. "Today, I still cannot explain why that officer went to his Taser. We train officers every year. Everyone at this police department is trained on de-escalation. There was no de-escalation. He went right to his taser."

Chief Holloway said each officer has up to eight months of training before they are "out in the street."

"When we interviewed the officer…at first he said it was the stress level when he got there. He heard that one of the warrants was resisting arrest with violence," Calloway said. "All we can assume is he was thinking that Mr. Grant was going to fight him…again not thinking about de-escalation. He has been trained to de-escalate first."

"This should not be your first option," the chief said while holding a stun gun. "He made this his first option."