CHARLOTTESVILLE — Police on Monday released a “wanted” poster seeking the man who was with University of Virginia student Hannah Graham immediately before she disappeared last week because they hope to speak with him about his interactions with Graham in the early morning hours of Sept. 13.
Though such posters are usually reserved for situations when police are trying to track down suspected violent criminals, drug dealers, abductors and fugitives, the Charlottesville Police Department wants Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 32, on two counts of reckless driving. Matthew has not been charged with any crime related to Graham’s disappearance, and police have presented no evidence that a crime occurred. Graham, a U-Va. sophomore from Fairfax County, has been missing for 10 days, as of Tuesday, without a trace of her whereabouts.
The poster release also came two days after Matthew walked through the police department’s front door, met with police, asked for a lawyer, was allowed to leave, and was then cited as he allegedly sped away. The photograph on the poster is dated Sept. 19 — Friday — the day police searched his car and Charlottesville apartment after surveillance video showed him walking with Graham through a pedestrian mall about a mile east of the U-Va. campus.
Police have said they do not have grounds to arrest Matthew in Graham’s case but would like to talk to him about Graham. They said he has “associates/contacts” in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District, and they would like people to alert police if they see him. They said he might have his sister’s 1997 light blue Nissan Sentra with the Virginia license plate VAC4575.
U-Va. officials said Matthew has been a patient technician in the operating room of the university’s hospital since Aug. 2012.
Capt. Gary Pleasants said Monday that Charlottesville police have not had contact with Matthew since he entered the police department Saturday afternoon requesting to speak with a lawyer. After speaking with a lawyer, Matthew left the area “at a high rate of speed,” pursued by two cars driven by Virginia State Police officers and FBI officials. Police said Matthew was seen driving so dangerously that the officials tailing the vehicle had to pull back. Police have since issued warrants on two counts of reckless driving against him.
Police believe Matthew was the last person to see Graham before she disappeared sometime at about 1:30 a.m. Sept. 13. Police said that witnesses saw Matthew and Graham, 18, inside the Tempo restaurant and bar having drinks together just after 1 a.m. It is not clear how Graham gained entry to the bar, and Pleasants said police do not know whether she had identification with her at the time.
Shortly after, Matthew left the area in his car, and police said they think Graham was with him, but they are seeking witnesses and other evidence to confirm that theory.
Cecilia Rodi, owner of Rapture restaurant and bar, said that a bouncer working the doors that night saw Graham walking down the mall. Rodi said that the bouncer later saw Graham speaking with a large man; Matthew is 6-foot-2 and weighs 270 pounds.
On Friday, police conducted a search of Matthew’s vehicle, a 1998 burnt orange Chrysler coupe, which was parked in front of his apartment. While police were there, an interaction with residents of the complex led police to seek a search warrant for Matthew’s apartment while he was inside, Pleasants said.
Forensics technicians have not completed DNA analysis of evidence found inside the car and the apartment, Pleasants said. Police again searched Matthew’s apartment Monday.
Graham was reported missing on Sunday, Sept. 14, at about 4:30 p.m. About an hour later, police informed U-Va. police about the case, Pleasants said.
Graham had been drinking with friends on the night of Sept. 12, and at some point after midnight she headed outside and apparently started walking in the wrong direction. She texted friends that she was disoriented, but she ultimately found her way to the downtown mall, which she recognized. It was there, police said, that Matthew approached her and put his arm around her. Witnesses saw the two walking toward the eastern end of the mall, but the trail goes cold after the two were at Tempo.
Business owners and people who frequent the mall said they are familiar with Matthew, a well-known and distinctive figure on the mall and within the area’s bar scene, with his big-barreled physique, goatee and dreadlocks.
Anthony Williams, a parking attendant at a Charlottesville garage near the mall, said that Matthew is popular and a familiar face among the downtown mall’s bars and eateries. Williams said he did not see anything out of the ordinary the night Graham disappeared.
Standing 6-foot-9 with dreadlocks, Williams, who is black, said that people have approached him in recent days.
“They say to me, ‘You look like that guy,’ ” Williams said. “It’s crazy that this happened on my mall. But if this guy was so well-known here, why would he do something on the mall where people know him?”
On the downtown mall, business owners said they have pressed city officials to install cameras along the shopping area to cut down on theft and drug dealing, cameras they say might have aided police in Graham’s case.
“We’ve been asking this city for five years,” said Joan Fenton, the owner of Quilts Unlimited. “The city council has refused on civil liberties grounds and privacy issues.”
Fenton said that the cameras could also be a deterrent for crimes that occur on the open-air pedestrian area. Police have released surveillance videos from two businesses showing Graham walking along the mall, but nothing indicating what might have happened to her. Fenton said she plans to urge the city at an Oct. 6 council meeting to install a more robust surveillance system.
Rodi, 42, the owner of Rapture, said her business does not have exterior cameras. She said she’d support a city-maintained surveillance system.
“When I was 19, I had a friend who disappeared after a party one night,” Rodi said of Tammy Haas, whose body was found days later in a ditch. “Her mom still asks, ‘What happened to Tammy?’ There’s still unanswered questions.”