PHOENIX (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents answering reports of gunfire fatally shot a man on a tribal reservation in southern Arizona after he abruptly threw something and raised his arm, the agency said in its first detailed accounting of last week’s shooting near the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
The FBI and Tohono O’odham Nation are also investigating the fatal shooting of Raymond Mattia on Thursday but had not 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 with remote, rugged terrain that borders the Mexican state of Sonora.
Monday’s statement suggests CBP is making an effort to increase its transparency on deadly force incidents.
“I think we can say that CBP is being more circumspect,” said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight along the U.S. border for the nongovernmental Washington Office on Latin America. “This could really change things in a big way by letting us see what the camera sees, not just the accounts of agents about what happened.”
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 CBP statement said that at around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, 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.
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 him 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, CBP said, and despite lifesaving efforts, he was declared dead shortly after 10 p.m.
Tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr. identified the man on Sunday as Mattia, 58, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Norris has not issued additional details about the shooting, including whether investigators found a weapon, and a spokesperson for the tribe has not responded to follow-up queries.
The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday that an autopsy last week determined that Mattia died from “gunshot wounds sustained during an interaction with law enforcement.” The office said it would not comment further until the release of the written examination report, which isn’t expected for weeks.
The agents involved in the shooting are on leave with pay.
About 7,000 body cameras have now been issued to agency workplaces under a program launched in August 2021.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced a policy this week for their use and said the department will keep bringing more cameras online while working with Congress to get the funding for more.
The shooting is under review by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and will be reviewed by the agency’s National Use of Force Review Board, the statement said.
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 an officer 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.