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Family of Tohono O'odham man shot by Border Patrol files suit: 'There’s no healing yet'

The family of an Indigenous man shot and killed by Border Patrol agents in May is suing the federal government over his death. 

Tohono O’odham tribal member Raymond Mattia was shot nine times outside his home in the tribal community of Menagers Dam, about a mile from the border with Mexico. 

Outside the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson on Friday morning, Mattia’s niece Yvonne Nevarez told reporters bullets pierced Mattia’s shoulder, abdomen, colon, liver, back and other parts of his body.

“Our human rights as people are diminished if Border Patrol and TOPD (Tohono O’odham Police Department) can get away with doing this to Ray,” she said. “We as a people, as a nation, deserve accountability and transparency from CBP.”

An edited body camera video released by Customs and Border Protection shows Mattia surrendering a sheathed knife as Border Patrol agents and a tribal police officer surround him. They shout at him to take his hands out of his pockets, and gunshots ring out a second later.

During a meeting with Nevarez and other family members in September, representatives with the Department of Justice said it was not pursuing any criminal charges against the agents involved.

Ryan Stitt, one of the lawyers representing the Mattia family, said the decision left them no choice but to pursue other legal avenues.  

“The Department of Justice does not plan to hold the agents accountable, and the department will not even honor the family’s rights as victims of a crime to answer basic questions about what led to his death,” he told reporters. 

Stitt said the Mattia family still lacked basic information about who shot Mattia and why.  

He and other lawyers filed notice of intent with the government this week — it’s the first step in a civil suit. 

Nevarez said her family was still searching for justice, after government officials failed to give them answers.  

“Ray complied with the agents at every turn,” she said. “Not only were the human rights of Ray violated, but also the rights of everyone who knew and loved him.”

Behind the podium where she spoke, a group of family members and their friends wore red and white t-shirts with the words “Justice for Raymond Mattia” and a picture of his face. A group of elders sat on the bench beside them. 

Ophelia Rivas is a Tohono O’odham elder whose house is just a few down from Mattia’s in Menagers Dam. She says he served on the local tribal council there and was well-known as a community advocate and a friend. 

“That’s the Ray we know. Somebody would call him and say, ‘hey, there’s something going on with my electricity, come over and fix it,' and he’d go over and fix it,” she said. “That’s just how he is.”

Rivas was at home the night Mattia was killed and watched investigators and Border Patrol agents comb the scene for the next few hours afterward. She says she and other community members heard the entire shooting that night, including a group of local children who had gathered in a nearby wash.

“They heard Ray fall. They heard him fall. And it just seems like there’s no healing yet,” she said. “I feel that the community is really on edge about what’s going to happen next.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Justice declined to answer further questions about the September meeting or the notice filed by the Mattia family this week.

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.