U.S. Customs and Border Protection released body camera video Thursday of a May 18 shooting incident in which 58-year-old Raymond Mattia was killed by border agents on tribal land in Arizona.
Mattia’s family has been desperately seeking answers as to why agents killed their relative, who they say was unarmed and had called CBP earlier that day to report undocumented migrants on his property in the Tohono O’odham Nation’s reservation. CBP said its agents were there because of a request for assistance from Tohono O’odham police as they responded to a “shots fired call."
In the video, captured by cameras worn by three CBP agents at 9:39 p.m., Mattia comes out of his house and throws an object, later identified to be a machete in a sheath. The agents then shout for him to get his hands out of his pocket. He does so abruptly, revealing a dark object. Agents immediately open fire and bring Mattia down. Later they found the dark object to be a cellphone Mattia had removed from his pocket.
A statement from CBP released with the video said the agency’s National Use of Force Review Board will review the incident to determine if the agents “followed CBP policy regarding the permissible use of force.”
Frank Figliuzzi, an NBC News contributor who served as a civil rights supervisor for the FBI in San Francisco, said the video shows the officers made a mistake in thinking the cellphone was a firearm, but he believes it will ultimately be deemed a justified use of force given that officers were responding to a “shots fired call," the way Mattia pulled out his phone and the darkness of the environment, among other factors.
“Two things can be true at the same time,” Figliuzzi said. “A shooting can be justified and a mistake.”
It is unclear from the video or CBP statements whether agents knew Mattia had previously called to report undocumented migrants on his property.
During the 911 call that led to the shooting, also released by CBP on Thursday, the CBP dispatcher is told by Tohono O’odham police that there is a report of shots fired in a general area, but does not name a person or address. It is unclear how agents determined the shots came from Mattia.
His family members say Mattia thought the agents were there to respond to his previous call about migrants on his property.
“Now anyone with a cell phone in their pocket can be justifiably shot and killed if the officers involved assume you have a weapon,” said Yvonne Nevarez, Mattia’s niece. “My uncle was complying and they acted out with excessive and deadly force.”
Based on conversations recorded on the agents’ cameras leading up to the shooting, it seemed they knew Mattia and had pinpointed him as the person responsible for firing shots.
Leading up to the shooting, as agents are spreading out to look for Mattia, one of them refers to Mattia as “this motherf-----.”
The Pima County medical examiner determined Mattia’s death to be homicide by gunshot wounds. The medical examiner also found methamphetamine, alcohol and oxycodone in Mattia’s system, according to a June 14 report.
The incident is being reviewed by the FBI, the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility. One of Mattia’s relatives who spoke to Mattia in the moments before his death told NBC News she has yet to be interviewed by federal agents.
“I asked that night: ‘We want to talk to someone. What happened to Ray? We need answers,’” said the relative, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by law enforcement.