Family seeks answers in son’s death

Nora and Nicholas Lugo bow their heads in grief Monday as they talk with reporters about their 21-year-old son, Samuel Mata, at the office of Kenny Perez Law. San Benito police shot Mata, a San Benito resident, last week. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The devastated family of a 21-year-old San Benito man shot by San Benito police last week spoke to reporters on Monday about the life of their son, nephew, uncle, brother, and grandson Samuel Mata.

The family, which is represented by attorney Kenny Perez, called for the cooperation of anyone involved. Mata’s mother Nora Lugo said the day her son was born was “the happiest day of my life”.

He was always there for everyone and I’m going to miss him dearly,” she said through tears.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the incident. According to a press release published by San Benito PD, Officer Oscar Laura shot Samuel Mata in his front yard near the intersection of South Bonham and East Powers streets around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

The department stated that Mata and his mother were “arguing about the use of a vehicle” and that his mother “was attempting to prevent Mr. Mata from driving off in her car when a physical altercation ensued.”

“Officer Lara attempted to de-escalate the situation when Mr. Mata brandished a revolver and pointed it at his mother and subsequently at Officer Lara. Officer Lara aimed at Mr. Mata and discharged his firearm,” the release stated.

Mata’s family contested that version of events. According to Lugo, a San Benito Police officer approached the two outside her son’s apartment as they stood outside her vehicle, determining who would drive.

According to Lugo, she and Mata did not argue. “That cop was the patrol cop passing by. I saw him patrolling the area earlier,” she said.

“I had my 2-year-old grandson in a car seat. I was putting him to sleep. Sammy put his dog in my car because he wanted me to take him somewhere. When [Officer Lara] happened to pass by, I didn’t want Sam to drive the car because I wanted him to be with his dog,” she said.

The cop approached Mata and Lugo. According to Lugo, the cop told Mata, “Sir, I’m going to mace you.”

Lugo said she let the cop know that Mata was her son, that he lived there, and that there was no need to do so. “I remember him saying mom, they’re going to get me. They’re going to take me,” she said.

The mother then leaned inside the vehicle to get the keys from the ignition and heard “shot after shot”.

“I can honestly say that I don’t know if he owned a weapon or not. No weapons are allowed in my home, but he lived on his own. I did not see one weapon on him. He was wearing loose khaki shorts and a t-shirt. Cops have a body cam. That’s when I’m going to get my answers,” she said.

Mata’s mother had no idea why the police would be after her son. “He had speeding tickets. Who doesn’t? I’m not saying he was perfect. Other than that, he was fine. He had no issues with the cops,” she stated.

The family spoke vibrantly of Mata’s life and their love for him, laughing as they recalled his extraordinary willingness to assist others, to show his love for friends and family, and his impressive work ethic.

They recalled him offering rides to those in need, setting aside money for his mother, wearing a suit to his first day at work as a pharmacy driver, and even distributing masks to senior citizen neighbors.

Neighbors described Mata as “a good boy” and said they hadn’t had any trouble with him.

One, Rosie Avalos, told reporters at the scene that Mata came to her door around 9 p.m. telling her that he “had a problem”. According to Avalos, he then got on his knees and did the sign of the cross two times, but returned home before sharing the nature of his problem.

Another neighbor, Candy Quiroz, said she heard people inside “trashing” the house and that Mata “threw something made of glass” at the door just before the officer arrived. Quiroz also told reporters last week that she saw a pistol next to Mata’s body.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com