Family of Indigenous man fatally shot by Border Patrol say they're still searching for answers

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2023 - 11:25am
Updated: Wednesday, June 28, 2023 - 10:38pm
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An edited video released by Customs and Border Protection this month shows body camera footage of the fatal shooting of Raymond Mattia, a Tohono O'odham tribal member shot by Border Patrol agents in the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Fifty-eight-year-old Mattia was shot and killed the night of May 18 during an encounter with law enforcement outside his home in Menagers Dam, a small tribal community about a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. 

CBP says Border Patrol agents joined a Tohono O'odham police officer that night to respond to a shots fired call. 

In the video, Mattia is seen tossing a sheathed knife on the ground at the feet of a Tohono O'odham police officer. A Border Patrol agent yells at him to take his hands out of his pockets, and agents open fire seconds after he does. 

Yvonne Nevarez is Mattia’s niece.

"The fact of the matter is that he stood there and from our point of view, it looks like he was complying because they said to drop his weapon. That's why he handed over his hunting knife in its sheath," she said. 

An autopsy report released this month by the Pima County Medical Examiner shows Mattia was shot nine times in the torso, arms and legs. 

The agency says agents fired on Mattia after he removed his hand from his pocket and was holding an object. A slew of gunshots ring out as Mattia crumples to the ground on his stomach. Agents and the tribal police officer advance toward him, some continue yelling at him to put his hands up, though Mattia does not appear to be moving at all. Multiple agents continue calling out to search for a firearm.

"He's still got a gun in his hand," one agent is heard saying. Others search his pockets. But the video never shows a gun on Mattia’s person at any point. A cellphone and phone case is seen lying next to him. A family member who lives near Mattia didn't want to be identified but said she had been on the phone with him moments before he was shot and had called him because she was scared seeing all the agents pass by her home. As other family accounts have stated, she said Mattia had called authorities to report an encounter with migrants on his property earlier that day. 

The CBP video also includes audio from a dispatch call between the Tohono O'odham Police Department and the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector. A tribal police dispatcher is heard asking whether agents can accompany police officers to respond to a call of gunshots being fired in an area in Menagers Dam, though names are redacted and the dispatcher says the source of the gunshots have not been pin pointed. 

CBP says 10 Border Patrol agents were wearing body cameras during the incident, but the video shows footage from only four agents, including the three who fired their weapons. 

Nevarez says her family was called to view the video before its release this month. She says they were expecting to see raw, unedited footage of the encounter, but were told it was not available. 

The case is under investigation by the FBI and the Tohono O'odham Police Department, in addition to CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility. A CBP spokesperson said the agency did not have further comment beyond the video and its accompanying press release, and said additional questions should be directed to the FBI.

Nevarez says her family wants to see the investigation completed.

"Right now, that's all we want. We want somebody to be held accountable because, you know, trust has been broken here, we don't feel safe," she said. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office said the office generally anticipates doing its own assessment of whether use of force by a federal officer was lawful, but declined to comment further while the investigation continues.