US Border Patrol says agents who killed man in Arizona were answering report of gunfire
May 23, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: May 24, 2023, 12:22 pm
PHOENIX (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents answering reports of gunfire fatally shot a man on a tribal reservation in southern Arizona last week after he abruptly threw something and raised his arm, the agency said in its first detailed accounting of the shooting near the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
The FBI and Tohono O’odham Nation are also investigating Thursday night’s fatal shooting of Raymond Mattia. Neither agency had released details about the shooting by Tuesday.
The statement released Monday night by U.S. Customs and Border Protection said tribal police had asked Border Patrol agents for help in responding to a report of shots fired west of the Menagers Dam community on tribal land near the U.S. southern border. The village is on the reservation east of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a sprawling UNESCO biosphere reserve known for its remote, rugged terrain that borders the Mexican state of Sonora.
At around 9:30 p.m., the agents were told that reports indicated shots had been fired near the home of a “named individual” and a tribal officer went to the location to look for the person, with the agents following in separate cars, the statement said.
A few minutes after arriving, the police officer and the agents encountered a man outside of a home near their parked cars, authorities said.
The man threw some kind of object toward the officer that landed a few feet away from his feet and then “abruptly extended his right arm away from his body and three agents fired their service weapons, striking the individual several times,” according to the statement.
Because of bad weather, no air ambulance was available to take the man to a hospital and despite lifesaving efforts he was declared dead shortly after 10 p.m., CBP said.
Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr. on Sunday identified the man as Mattia, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and offered the family his condolences.
Since then, Norris has not issued additional details about the shooting, including whether investigators found a weapon. A spokesperson for the tribe has not responded to numerous follow-up queries.
“As the investigation proceeds, the Nation expects full consideration of all related facts of the incident and an appropriate and expeditious response from relevant public safety agencies,” Norris said in his only statement over the weekend. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we will refrain from making further comment at this time.”
The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday that an autopsy last week determined that Mattia, 58, died from “gunshot wounds sustained during an interaction with law enforcement.” The office said it would have no additional comment about the autopsy findings until after the release of the written examination report, which isn’t expected for weeks.
The three Border Patrol agents who opened fire and at least seven others at the scene were wearing body cameras and activated them during the shooting, the department said.
“CBP is committed to expeditious release of the body worn camera footage of this incident as soon as is appropriate to do so without impacting the ongoing law enforcement investigation,” it said.
The agents involved in the shooting are on administrative leave while the investigation plays out, which is standard practice in cases involving the use of deadly force.
The use of body cameras to improve transparency and accountability has spread across the department over the last two years, with about 7,000 now issued to agency workplaces under a program launched in August 2021.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas this week announced a policy for their use and said the department will continue to bring more cameras online while working with Congress to get the money necessary to equip agents nationwide.
The shooting is under review by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and then will be reviewed by the agency’s National Use of Force Review Board, the statement said. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General was also notified.
The wider use of body cameras and an effort to release footage quickly to the public stems from an executive order issued last year by President Joe Biden in an effort to make federal law enforcement agencies more accountable. Border activists complain it doesn’t go far enough.
The CBP released body camera footage earlier this month from an April 2 fatal shooting near Las Cruces, New Mexico. Agents shot a man they say came after them with a wooden club after he went through a checkpoint without stopping and led them on a nearly 23-mile (37-kilometer) chase. Agents fired approximately 16 rounds, and the man was declared dead at the scene.
The CBP released body camera footage in April that showed a Border Patrol agent fatally shooting a U.S. citizen driving a vehicle suspected of smuggling migrants near Sasabe, Arizona, the evening of March 14. The agency said the driver led agents on a chase, then was shot when he stopped to turn around and one of the officers struggled with him through the window.
Border Patrol agents are rarely found guilty of criminal conduct in fatal shootings.
In one well-known case, Lonnie Swartz, a former Border Patrol agent in Arizona, was found not guilty in a federal criminal case in the cross-border shooting of a Mexican teenager who threw rocks at him. Prosecutors said Swartz overreacted in the 2012 killing of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez.