Controversy erupts over Border Patrol fatal shooting of citizen and tribe member on own property near border

 August 8, 2023

President Joe Biden's administration is under criticism following an incident in May in Arizona that involved multiple U.S. Border Patrol agents fatally shooting a U.S. citizen and Native American tribe member on his own property on tribal land near the southern border with Mexico.

The incident has sparked controversy and complaints from some in the tribe about the use of deadly force and how the official version of events from the federal government differs from other accounts of what transpired, The New York Times reported.

Unarmed U.S. citizen and tribe member fatally shot on own property by Border Patrol agents

On the night of May 18, tribal police received a call of shots fired from a village on the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation that sits on the border between Arizona and Mexico, and U.S. Border Patrol agents were summoned to provide assistance in responding to that call.

Nearly a dozen agents responded and met with a tribal police officer who then led them to the property of Raymond Mattia, who is alleged to have contacted authorities earlier in the evening following a confrontation with three men suspected of being illegal migrants or traffickers on his property.

Mattia reportedly went outside to greet the tribal officer and Border Patrol agents searching his property in the darkness but was treated as though he was a suspect. He was ordered to drop his weapon, at which point he tossed a sheathed machete toward the agents, and put his hands up, but that is when multiple shots were fired and the unarmed Mattia, who was then only carrying a cellphone, was killed after being struck by nine bullets.

Tribal members are now questioning the swift use of deadly force by the Border Patrol agents and sharing their accounts of other instances in the past when they assert that they have been harassed and mistreated by agents while on or going to and from tribal land.

Border Patrol gives their version of events

On May 22, after the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy of Mattia's body, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a press release that announced an ongoing investigation into the fatal shooting incident and provided the government's version of events with regard to Border Patrol agents providing assistance as a tribal officer responded to a call.

Most pertinent is the claim that "The individual threw an object toward the officer as they approached the structure which landed a few feet from the officer’s feet. Shortly after the individual threw the object, he abruptly extended his right arm away from his body and three agents fired their service weapons striking the individual several times. The individual fell to the ground, and the officer and agents slowly approached the man."

The CBP account further noted that medical assistance was provided to Mattia but, due to "inclement weather," no evacuation of the wounded man was available by air, and he was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene by a physician from St. Mary's Hospital in Tucson who was contacted on the phone by a Border Patrol Emergency Medical Technician nearly a half hour after he had first been shot.

Tribal leader expresses concerns but warns not to "prejudge" the situation

On June 24, Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. issued a statement after the medical examiner determined that Mattia's death had been a homicide and bodycam footage of Border Patrol agents was released, and reiterated the tribe's "expectation of a comprehensive, transparent and timely investigation of Mr. Mattia's tragic death."

"The information contained in the report and the body camera footage is graphic and concerning," Norris said. "But we must not prejudge the situation and continue to allow investigating agencies to do their fact-finding work."

"Our hearts and prayers remain with Raymond Mattia's family and friends during this incredibly difficult time," he added. "We will continue to follow this matter closely to ensure all facts are reviewed and justice is served."

Family accuses Border Patrol of cover up

According to a June 28 report from The Intercept, however, Mattia's family and others in the tribe insinuated that a coverup of an unjustified shooting of an innocent man who complied with shouted orders was underway as only select snippets of video from just three of the ten Border Patrol agents involved in the incident, along with the sanitized version of events, had been released.

Mattia's niece, Yvonne Nevarez, said, "We feel after watching the video that he was trying to comply the best he could. If they’re allowed to get away with this now, it’s not going to stop." She added, "We were under the impression that we were going to watch raw footage. The way they put it together feels like a cheap attempt to justify what they did, and it feels like none of them are on our side. It feels like they’re just trying to defend themselves, instead of defending my uncle Ray."

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