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Family demands justice in CBP fatal shooting on Tohono O’odham Nation

Months after Raymond Mattia was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents, his family is still seeking accountability.
Family demands justice in CBP fatal shooting on Tohono O’odham Nation
Posted at 9:00 PM, Jan 24, 2024

A family’s desperate calls seeking justice for Raymond Mattia go unanswered eight months after he was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Arizona who responded to a call for shots fired.  

Family members of 58-year-old Mattia filed a $15 million tort claim against U.S. Customs and Protection for the wrongful death of Mattia. His family said they’re aware that suing a federal law enforcement agency is nearly impossible, but they’re prepared for a drawn-out court battle.  

Annette Mattia and her daughter Yvonne Nevarez sat at the table near a Christmas tree thumbing through photos of Mattia throughout his life. They said the holidays weren’t the same without Raymond.  

“I try to be strong, but then it just gets to me,” Annette Mattia wiped her tears. She said her brother was a father, an aspiring artist, and an active Tohono O’odham member.  

On May 18, 2023, U.S. Border Patrol agents fired approximately 38 shots at Mattia while outside his home, according to the tort claim filed in November of 2023. The medical examiner reported 9 bullet wounds.  

U.S. Customs and Border Protection later released redacted body camera video from agents at the scene, an operator requesting border patrol backup, and a timeline of the events that unfolded.  

According to CBP, the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department requested assistance from border patrol agents to help respond to a call for shots fired west of the Menagers Dam Village, 142 miles southwest of Tucson.  

In the video released, the Tohono O’odham Police Department operator informed the border patrol operator for the Tucson sector that they’d received a report of shots being heard, a one-on-one threat against someone with a restraining order, and said the caller reported the man had a rifle.  

Roughly 30 minutes after border patrol received a call for backup, body camera video captured agents confronting Mattia. An agent can he heard saying, “come here with your hands up” then “put your hands up” followed by, “put it down for me, put it down.” 

Mattia tossed what CBP described as a machete towards an officer. Various agents shouted orders and demanded that Mattia get his hands out of his pocket; seconds later, agents fired their weapons.   

“I said did you shoot my brother Raymond, and he [agent] was running, and he said we possibly did,” Annette Mattia recalled the pain and disbelief. “Oh my God, I just lost it cause I knew he wasn’t alive anymore.”  

Annette Mattia said she was outside her home when she heard countless shots fired at her brother’s home nearby.  

Once Mattia was on the ground agents feverishly search for a “gun” or a “rifle.” 

 Ryan Stitt and Timothy Scott, the attorneys representing family members of Mattia, said agents never found a weapon on or near Mattia.  

“They tell him to take his hands out of his jacket pocket, and he does to the side, and they all fire wrongly, it appears believing that his phone was a weapon,” Stitt said.  

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The attorneys representing the family filed a tort claim which accuses agents of acting aggressively and violating the U.S. Constitution by using excessive force.  

Mattia’s family is calling on CBP to release of the raw body camera video. They said the redacted video lacks transparency and raises questions about agents’ aggressive response to a call for shots fired, which they say is not uncommon on the nation.  

“I thought, 'OK, you know, if he’s acting crazy and threatening, then OK, then they had to shoot him,' but that’s not what I saw. I saw my uncle Ray just standing there peacefully,” Yvonne Nevarez said. 

Nevarez also pointed out that her uncle tossed a hunting knife in a sheath not a machete towards an officer. 

“Is this community policing or are they playing Call of Duty? I mean look at the assault weapon, look at the night goggles," Scott said.  

The U.S. Attorney’s Office released a statement:  

“The agents’ use of force under the facts and circumstances presented in this case does not rise to the level of a federal criminal civil rights violation or a criminal violation assimilated under Arizona law.” 

“Agents are trained in the use of force and the training says that the use of force, the use of deadly force is a last option,” Stitt said.   

The chairman and vice chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation released a statement calling the decision by the U.S. Attorney to not prosecute the agents involved in Mattia’s death a “tragedy of justice.” 

Outside Mattia's home, a sign hangs calling for justice, but the road ahead poses a challenge. 

“They’re federal agents, when you are trying to sue the federal government for wrongdoing, specifically for a civil rights violation, existing Supreme Court law makes it really, really difficult.” Scott adds that it’s nearly impossible given their immunity.  

Annette Mattia and her daughter Nevarez stood near a small memorial for Raymond. They said they will continue to hold protests seeking justice for him.  

“If no one is ever held accountable then they don’t have to answer to anyone,” Nevarez said.  

It’s unclear if the agents are back at work, their names were not released by CBP.  

The National Use of Force Review Board is investigating Mattia’s death. A spokesperson with CBP said they did not have an update on the investigation.  

The CBP has four months left to respond to the tort claim and if an agreement is not reached the family plans to file a lawsuit.   

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