7 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the victim classification is “Indigenous”

May 18, 2023

Border Patrol agents shot and killed Raymond Mattia, a 58 year-old member of the Tohono O’odham nation, while Mattia was steps from the front door of his home in the community of Menager’s Dam (also known as Ali Chuk), Arizona. Three agents, part of a group accompanying Tohono O’odham Nation police, fired their weapons at Mattia, striking him “several times,” according to CBP’s May 22, 2023 release about the incident (original link).

The three agents who discharged their weapons, along with seven others, activated their body-worn cameras during the incident. On June 22, 2023, CBP released the body-worn camera footage from four of the ten cameras of agents present at the scene, including those of the three agents who fired at Mattia (original link). (The video contains heavy profanity and graphic violence.)

This was CBP’s third release of body-worn camera footage since the agency began making edited footage public in April 2023. On May 23, DHS announced the publication of a new policy on body-worn cameras for the department’s 80,000 law enforcement personnel (original links: release / policy). The announcement noted that CBP, which has had its own body-worn camera directive since August 2021, had so far issued 7,000 cameras to its workforce (original link).

The body-worn camera video release showed the agents firing rapid volleys of bullets at Mattia. The Pima County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report found that Mattia was hit by nine bullets (original link).

It is not clear why police and agents prioritized Mattia’s residence. CBP’s statement reported that agents arrived at the scene upon the request of the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department, to respond to a “shots fired” call. CBP’s video presentation plays audio of a call from Tohono O’odham police informing Border Patrol of a report of shots fired in a general area. The call does not name any person or address. As NBC News coverage noted, “It is unclear how agents determined the shots came from Mattia,” if shots had in fact been fired.

Mattia’s relatives, however, have said that Mattia himself called Border Patrol for help, because migrants were passing through his property. Relatives say they know nothing about “shots fired” in the area that evening, and that Mattia “thought the agents were there to respond to his previous call about migrants on his property,” which is not far from the border, NBC reported. A family member told the Intercept that some migrants had entered Mattia’s home demanding to use his phone, and “he just grabbed his hunting knife and scared them off.”

Soon after, Annette Mattia, the victim’s sister and neighbor, told Arizona Public Media that she saw “a bunch of Border Patrol vehicles drive into the yard.”

She grabbed her phone and called her brother. She told him Border Patrol were all over and asked what she should do.

Laughing it off, Raymond said, Just tell them to go away. Annette told him she didn’t want to talk to them as she watched the agents rush toward Raymond’s yard. He said he’d go out and talk to them.

“Next thing you know, I heard all the gunfire,” she says. “I didn’t know if it was him or not. I was shaking. I was scared. I was crying because I had that feeling that they did that to him.”

The body-worn camera footage showed agents in an agitated state as they headed toward Mattia’s residence, where they arrived about a half-hour after the initial call. The footage, NBC remarked, indicated that the agents “knew Mattia and had pinpointed him as the person responsible for firing shots.” As they search for him, one agent refers to Mattia as “this motherf——.”

As the Border Patrol agents and Tohono O’odham police converged on his house, the video shows Mattia coming outside. Tribal police told him to put down his weapon. Mattia complied, lobbing toward the police a sheathed machete or hunting knife, perhaps the one he had brandished at the migrants who had reportedly entered his home.

Border Patrol agents, shouting profanity-filled commands, then ordered Mattia to take his “hands out of his f—ing pocket.” Mattia, complying, abruptly removed his hand, holding an object down and to the right. Three agents, apparently believing the object to be a weapon, immediately opened fire multiple times, and Mattia fell to the ground. The object in Mattia’s hand was a mobile phone.

Unable to detect a pulse in Mattia, the agents initiated CPR and subsequently called for air life medical evacuation. Because of inclement weather, however, evacuation was not available, and Mattia was pronounced dead. Annette Mattia told Arizona Public Media that her brother’s body remained in his front yard for seven hours until the medical examiner arrived. “We just got to say our goodbyes in a bodybag,” she said.

Family members told the Intercept that they are perplexed about why agents decided to zero in on Mattia’s home. “The dispatcher states that they couldn’t pinpoint where the shooting was coming from, but yet, when they are there at the rec center [where the operation began], they’re coming straight to my uncle Ray’s house, with their guns drawn,” said Mattia’s niece, Yvonne Nevarez.

Tohono O’odham land straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Nation has had an uneasy relationship at times with U.S. border law enforcement. Mattia himself appears to have had a complicated past relationship with Border Patrol. Ophelia Rivas, a friend of the victim, told the Arizona Republic that Mattia “was on the community council of the village and would often speak up about Border Patrol abuses.” The Intercept noted that he “had been outspoken against the corruption he saw on the border, including corruption involving border law enforcement.” Amy Juan, a leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, told the Border Chronicle podcast that Mattia had “been vocal, not just now, but in the past and recently, about the activity happening that he’s seen in his community, namely, involving Border Patrol. Corruption, and being involved in illegal activities there.”

Mattia’s family and friends described him as a “law abiding citizen” who was “not an aggressive kind of man.” On an episode of the Border Patrol union-affiliated podcast, however, National Border Patrol Council Vice President Art del Cueto remarked that Mattia had a prior arrest record.

“Raymond called for help and, in turn, was shot down at his doorstep,” read a statement from family members, which alleged that “improper and unprofessional actions of the agencies involved were witnessed by family members present near the crime scene.”

The agents who fired their weapons are currently on leave with pay, as is standard in such use-of-force incidents. CBP reported Mattia’s death “is currently being investigated by the Tohono O’odham Nation Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and is under review by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).”

Once these investigations conclude, CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board will review the incident and make disciplinary recommendations, if any. In fiscal year 2021, the last year for which data are available, this Review Board and local review boards declined to issue sanctions in 96 percent of the 684 cases they reviewed. Of the other 24 cases, 11 ended up with counseling for the agents involved, and the other 13 remained under investigation or pending action as of April 2022.

“There’ll be an investigation, an assessment of the force used, and we are going to look at tensions in the community,” Gary Restaino, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, said on June 23. Frank Figliuzzi, a former civil rights supervisor for the FBI in San Francisco, shared with NBC News his belief that the agents may not be disciplined “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.”

— “Tucson agents involved in fatal shooting of man, while responding to shots fired call” (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, May 22, 2023) <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/tucson-agents-involved-fatal-shooting-man-while-responding-shots>.

— “CBP releases body-worn camera footage from agent-involved shooting on Tohono O’odham Nation” (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, June 22, 2023) <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/national-media-release/cbp-releases-body-worn-camera-footage-agent-involved-shooting-0>.

— “Body-Worn Camera Video Releases” (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2023) <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/accountability-and-transparency/body-worn-camera-video-releases>.

— “DHS Announces First Department-Wide Policy on Body-Worn Cameras” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, May 23, 2023) <https://www.dhs.gov/news/2023/05/23/dhs-announces-first-department-wide-policy-body-worn-cameras>.

— Alejandro N. Mayorkas, “Department Policy on Body Worn Cameras” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, May 22, 2023) <https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/2023-05/23_0522_opa_signed-dhs-policy-on-body-worn-cameras-508.pdf>.

— “CBP Directive No.: 4320-030B: Incident-Driven Video Recording Systems” (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, August 6, 2021) <https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2022-Feb/CBP-Directive-4320-030B-IDVRS-signed-508.pdf>.

— “Autopsy Report for Raymond Mattia.” (Tucson: Pima County Medical Examiner, May 19, 2023.) <https://content.civicplus.com/api/assets/7a5f61dd-df80-4f8e-a519-642d767451aa>.

— Julia Ainsley and Didi Martinez, “CBP releases body camera video of fatal shooting of man on tribal land near Mexican border” (NBC News, June 23, 2023) <https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/cbp-releases-body-camera-video-fatal-shooting-man-tribal-land-mexican-rcna90872>.

— Lupita Murillo, “Tohono O’odham man shot and killed by border patrol” (Tucson: KVOA, May 19, 2023) <https://www.kvoa.com/news/local/tohono-oodham-man-shot-and-killed-by-border-patrol/article_a09cb84e-f6a8-11ed-a078-63d5074703ec.html>.

— Ryan Deveraux, “Border Patrol Video of Killing Shows Native Man Had No Gun, Complied With Orders” (The Intercept, June 26, 2023) <https://theintercept.com/2023/06/26/border-patrol-killing-raymond-mattia/>.

— Danyelle Khmara, “Family of man killed by border patrol want justice for their loved one” (Arizona: Arizona Public Media, May 26, 2023) <https://news.azpm.org/p/news-articles/2023/5/26/216197-family-of-man-killed-by-border-patrol-want-justice-for-their-loved-one/>.

— Todd Miller, “How Border Patrol Occupied the Tohono O’odham Nation” (In These Times, June 12, 2019) <https://inthesetimes.com/article/us-mexico-border-surveillance-tohono-oodham-nation-border-patrol>.

— José Ignacio Castañeda Perez, “‘We want justice’: Family, friends of Tohono O’odham man protest Border Patrol killing” (Arizona: The Arizona Republic, May 27, 2023) <https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2023/05/27/border-patrol-abuses-decried-by-family-of-slain-tohono-oodham-member/70258069007/>.

— Todd Miller, “The Longer Story of the Border Patrol Killing of a Tohono O’odham Man: A Podcast with Amy Juan” (The Border Chronicle, June 15, 2023) <https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/the-longer-story-of-the-border-patrol>.

— Art Del Cueto, “Episode 463 – The Magic Wand” (The Green Line, May 27, 2023) <https://www.radiogreenline.com/episode-463-the-magic-wand/>.

— Brenda Norrell, “Family of Raymond Mattia, Tohono O’odham Murdered by U.S. Border Patrol, Plans Protests” (IndyBay.org, May 25, 2023) <https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2023/05/25/18856331.php>.

— José Ignacio Castañeda Perez, “Autopsy: Tohono O’odham man shot 9 times by Border Patrol as death ruled a homicide” (Arizona: The Arizona Republic, June 23, 2023) <https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2023/06/23/border-patrol-shot-tohono-oodham-man-9-times-death-ruled-a-homicide/70351733007/>.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: To be reviewed by Use of Force Review Board, Under FBI Investigation, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Indigenous, U.S. Citizen or Resident

Mid-September 2022

Reporting in September 2022, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) related the separation of an Indigenous Mexican father and son in Border Patrol custody.

BP [Border Patrol] apprehended Alan [name changed to protect privacy] and his 17 year old son after they had walked nearly 2 days in the desert. BP brought them to a holding cell where they stayed for one night together. The next morning, they separated Alan from his son, even after he explained their relationship. The agents only said that it was a crime to cross without papers. Alan arrived at KBI after spending 11 days detained and with no information about his son’s whereabouts. Further, Alan and his son speak Nahuatl natively and Spanish is their second language, making the family reunification process even more challenging.

— “September 15 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 15, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Indigenous, Mexico

Mid-June, 2022

Though a May 23, 2022 District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruling prohibited CBP personnel from using Title 42 to expel asylum-seeking families to places where they will be persecuted or tortured (original link), the practice continues, the Nogales, Arizona-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reports.

* Pablo [name changed to protect privacy], a Nicaraguan man traveling with his daughter to escape political persecution in their country, crossed into the US last week to seek asylum. Border Patrol threw away their toiletries, food and other personal items, and expelled them to Nogales, Sonora without a fear assessment. Pablo was not given the chance to speak about his case to anyone. 

* Deysi left Guatemala with her six-year-old daughter about a month ago. Her mother was brutally murdered in her hometown, and the rest of her family members have already fled to the US since her mother’s death. She and her daughter attempted to cross into the US to seek asylum and were quickly detained by Border Patrol. They took down her biographical information and fingerprints, but never gave her the opportunity to explain the danger she was fleeing. 

* Several young mothers and their children from an indigenous community in Guatemala tried to cross into the US to seek asylum earlier this month. All of them spoke Mam, their indigenous language, and some spoke limited Spanish. They were detained in the desert, where Border Patrol agents confiscated their personal items like clothing and medication. When they told a Border Patrol agent that they wanted to seek asylum, the agent dismissed them and ignored their request, saying “Ustedes sabrán qué hacer” [“you’ll know what to do”].  Border Patrol told one of the women from the group that the border was closed and she would need to seek asylum in Mexico. When she shared about the violence she suffered in Guatemala, the agent would not believe her. Another woman from the group was so disoriented by the expulsion process and language barrier that when she arrived at Kino, she asked the staff whether she was in Mexico or the US.

* Yanet, [name changed to protect privacy], a Honduran woman fleeing death threats from organized crime groups because she refused to sell drugs for them, traveled north to seek asylum in the US. Despite the fact that she suffered multiple incidents of rape and assault at the hands of her smugglers, Border Patrol quickly expelled her back to Mexico.

— “June 23 Update on Asylum, Border, and Deportations from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, June 23, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Female, Guatemala, Honduras, Indigenous, Nicaragua

Mid-April, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about Border Patrol confiscating asylum-seeking migrants’ mobile phones before expelling them into Nogales, Mexico under Title 42.

A young Mexican woman left her hometown because she had received death threats. She arrived at the border earlier this month and attempted to cross into the US. She was detained by Border Patrol agents who confiscated her belongings, including her cell phone. When she was going to be expelled into Mexico, a Border Patrol agent asked her to sign a paper saying that she would return in 30 days to collect her belongings. She asked the BP agent, “How will I collect my belongings in 30 days? Do I have to climb over the wall again?” The Border Patrol agent just laughed and said he didn’t know. Border Patrol also confiscated several other women ‘s phones from the same group. A few of them were crying because they did not know their family members’ phone numbers to contact them. One young woman in the group was from an indigenous community in southern Mexico and did not speak Spanish. She had been separated from her husband and now had no way to contact him.

— “April 28 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 28, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Indigenous, Mexico, Single Adult

January 6, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative reported on recent cases of expulsions into Mexico of particularly vulnerable migrants who do not speak Spanish:

Sixteen percent of those arriving at KBI in the last two weeks of December originally migrated from Haiti. Several of the Haitian families could not respond to simple questions in Spanish without the assistance of an interpreter. In some cases, one individual from the group spoke enough Spanish to interpret for others who did not speak Spanish. One young Haitian woman described experiencing discrimination during their journey north. She reported that her family was extorted in every country they traveled through, including members of the Mexican National Guard who stopped them in southern Mexico, opened up their backpacks, and took whatever they wanted.

Numerous indigenous families from Guatemala have been expelled to Nogales under Title 42, putting them at particular risk of discrimination in Mexico due to language barriers and cultural differences. A Guatemalan family whose primary language is Mam was expelled last week after attempting to cross into the US to seek asylum, as was a Guatemalan man whose primary language is Cakchiquel.

— “January 6 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 6, 2021)

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Guatemala, Haiti, Indigenous

Mid-June, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported about the separation of a Honduran Garífuna family whose asylum claim had gained an exception to the Title 42 expulsion policy:

Last week, a Honduran father of 5 whose wife is 3 months pregnant was detained by ICE as he and his family were processed through the consortium process at the downtown Nogales port of entry. The father does not have any criminal history in the US, and Spanish is the family’s second language, as they are part of the Garífuna indigenous community in Honduras.

As the mother shared in her testimony at the interfaith #SaveAsylum event this week, when the father was separated from his family, the CBP officer assured his wife that he would only be detained a day or two, but he has now been separated from his family for over a week.

His wife, who is stranded waiting for her husband’s release at a shelter in Tucson with their 5 children, attempted to set an appointment to visit her husband at La Palma, but was unable to do so because the visitation phone system is all in English. She has not received any clarity about when her husband will be released, and a week after his detention had not been able to make any contact since she does not have money to put in his commissary.

— “June 24 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, June 24, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): ICE, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Family Separation, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Honduras, Indigenous

Early January, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Since MPP returns to Nogales began on January 2nd, CBP has already returned particularly vulnerable individuals, including 3 two-year-old children, 2 one-year-old babies and 3 families that are primarily Mam speaking (despite the fact that indigenous language speakers, especially of non-Mexican languages, shouldn’t be subject to MPP).

— “January 9 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 9, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Indigenous