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Family of Tohono O'odham man killed by Border Patrol last year files wrongful death suit

Lawyers representing the family of a Native American man shot and killed by Border Patrol agents on tribal land last May have filed suit against the federal government. 

Raymond Mattia was killed in the Tohono O’odham community of Menagers Dam the night of May 18, 2023.

Almost a year to the day since Mattia's death, Ryan Stitt, one of the attorneys representing the family, said he and other lawyers had filed a wrongful death suit against the U.S. government and unnamed Border Patrol agents involved. 

"Mr. Mattia was a loved member of his community, and he was someone who did not deserve to die in front of his home for following the agents’ commands. And today marks the beginning of holding Customs and Border Protection accountable," he said.

Body-camera footage released by Customs and Border Protection shows agents and a tribal police officer descending on the Mattia home after responding to a shots fired 911 call. Mattia is seen surrendering a sheathed knife to authorities. He’s told to pull his hands out of his pockets and is shot one second after raising them in the air. He was unarmed. 

In October, a Justice Department spokesperson  said the agency's investigation into the incident determined the shooting did not violate state or federal criminal law. Stitt and members of Mattia's family held a press conference in Tucson a month later to announce they'd filed a notice of intent to sue. It's the first step in a civil suit and gives the government an opportunity to respond. In a new press conference Friday, Stitt said the federal government had not yet done so.

"We felt that it gave Border Patrol, the United States, an opportunity to accept responsibility for clearly egregious conduct at the hands of Border Patrol. And they have not done that. Their response so far is that Border Patrol did nothing wrong," he said.

Yvonne Nevarez, Mattia’s niece, said the shooting happened the day after her uncle's birthday last year. He would have been 59 today.

"Being that it’s his birthday, brings us extra sadness, because it’s the eve of his death. The last time I saw my Uncle Ray was the day before Mothers’ Day," she said.

Nevarez said federal investigators have still not answered the family’s questions about that night, including those about how many agents shot at Mattia, why they did and whether the tribal police officer on scene also fired his weapon.

"And so we felt there was nothing we could do but file these lawsuits," she said.

The family’s suit lists eight wrongful death complaints under Bivens and the Federal Tort Claim Act, including excessive use of force, assault, battery and negligence, among other claims.

A CBP spokesperson would not comment on the Mattia case or answer questions about the investigation, but said the agency provides timely, accurate information about CBP-related deaths and use of force incidents, and conducts investigations independently when incidents occur.

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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.