SOFREP interviewed the U.S. Border Patrol team leader who shot New York State escapee/killer Richard Matt when the inmate pointed a 20-gauge shotgun at the agent in a wooded upper New York State area.
In one of the first detailed interviews about that confrontation, U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Chris Voss, an eight-year service veteran, told SOFREP about that deadly encounter with convicted murderer Matt on June 26, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border near Elephant’s Head, New York.
Voss is the team leader of two low-profile, highly trained elite Border Patrol fire teams assigned to the Border Patrol’s Tactical Unit (BORTAC). The many missions that BORTAC teams pull vary from serving high-risk arrest warrants to addressing high-risk barricaded hostage situations, high-risk rural interdictions, and those missions requiring human-tracking skills.
The drama that lead to Voss shooting Matt began on June 6 when convicted murderers/inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.
As the highly publicized search for the escapees continued to draw national attention, law enforcement officials realized the convicted criminals were trying to reach the Canadian border. On Father’s Day, June 21, DNA analysis and a hot tip refocused the investigation into the wooded area along Highway 30, about 20 miles south of Canada.
BORTAC had originally deployed to New York on June 10, 2015. BORTAC returned to El Paso on June 19 after the trail went cold. “When the DNA results came up positive, we headed back to New York,” said Special Operations Supervisor (SOS) Greg Lairmore, the BORTAC section leader. Voss and his fire teams report to Lairmore, who oversees the teams’ deployments, specific targets, mission planning, and training. On missions such as the Matt/Sweat manhunt, he coordinates BORTAC missions; Office of Air and Marine air assets; and mission plans with federal, state, and local tactical teams and law enforcement agencies working in the search.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Air and Marine (OAM) dedicated multiple fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft and flight crews to the search. They supported BORTAC, enabling them to conduct missions as a quick reaction force (QRF). After numerous missions, the OAM Blackhawk that was serving as the primary air asset to insert and extract the BORTAC teams was grounded following a maintenance issue. The Office of Air and Marine, understanding that an aerial response to any event would be crucial, immediately retrofitted their two A-Star helicopters by taking the doors off and taking out the seats to maintain the aerial response capability of BORTAC. The New York State Police provided BORTAC with a Huey to insert additional BORTAC personnel.
The U.S. Border Patrol is known within law enforcement circles as having the best human trackers. BORTAC brings this skill along with a specialty in rural interdictions to missions such as the Matt/Sweat hunts. Additionally, Border Patrol has a great relationship with the New York State Patrol (NYSP) in Swanton Sector. When Border Patrol received a support request from NYSP, they supported with the Swanton Sector Special Operations Detachment (A regional, local sector-based BORTAC team) as well as sending a team from the national BORTAC team based out of El Paso, Texas—Lairmore’s and Voss’ team)
On June 26, 2015, Voss and his team had just returned from an earlier call of a possible sighting that turned out to have no bearing on this case. “We responded to numerous calls, possible sightings, and shots-fired calls during our deployment to New York,” said SOS Lairmore, “We had to treat every single one as though it were an actual sighting or as if it was in fact Matt and/or Sweat shooting at someone.” Shortly after returning from the earlier call, they were advised of another “shots fired” call off of Highway 30 near Lake Titus. BORTAC, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), responded to the call. Two OAM A-Stars inserted BORTAC near the scene.
After a helicopter insertion of the fire team on a local road, Voss took his team to an old cabin, where it was later determined that Matt had been. Because there were too many footprints in the area from the high number of law enforcement officials working that crime scene, Voss drew back to Highway 30 to regroup.
While the teams were in route, and even after they arrived on scene, additional reports of shots having been fired continued to come into the tactical operations center (TOC), including one confirmed report of a shot being fired at a man driving his truck and a trailer along Highway 30.
Lairmore relayed this and additional information from the TOC to Voss and his teams on the scene for situational awareness, confirming that there was indeed a subject near their location firing at people.
While on scene, a New York State trooper told Voss that he had heard coughing in a wooded area where there were no law enforcement personnel on the ground.
BP closes in on Matt
Voss coordinated his team, the local BORTAC element, and FBI HRT to push into the wood line in search of the subject. Voss and his fire team moved parallel to Highway 30 in the woods. After following the road and moving cautiously into the wooded area, the team encountered a swampy area. “We didn’t want to enter it just then, thinking that if the trooper heard coughing it would have been closer to Highway 30. So we walked around it, angling more toward the highway, and came across a knoll, or small hill,” Voss said.
Because of the hill and the wooded area, the fire team’s line of march became staggered as it moved up the hill. As the point man neared the top of the hill, he observed a man in the woods, announced that the team was law enforcement, and told him to show his hands.
As the point man issued verbal commands, Voss moved to his right and observed a man lying on the ground in a prone position, parallel to a log. Still in the wooded area, Voss maneuvered to get a better view of the suspect. As he moved, his visual sighting of the man improved and Voss ordered the man to show his hands. “I could see his face, but I couldn’t see his hands,” Voss told SOFREP.
As Voss’s sight focused, he could see the man’s face and a shotgun pointed directly at him. “When I could see the shotgun, training kicked in. I engaged the subject,” said Voss. He fired multiple .223 caliber rounds from his M4 into the suspect “until he was no longer a threat to me or any other law enforcement officer in the area.”
Once he was convinced that the threat had been handled, he and the point man approached Matt’s body, per SOPs, to ensure that Matt was no longer a threat. Voss removed the shotgun, pulling it a few feet away from the body while the point man rolled the suspect over to inspect the underside of the body for any additional weapons. Voss was so focused on Matt during the encounter that even to this day, he didn’t know the gauge of the shotgun. (Local media reported that it was a 20-gauge shotgun.) Voss estimated that he was about 10-15 yards away from Matt when he opened fire.
Matt, who was convicted of killing his boss after torturing him, was motionless. When the point man, Border Patrol Agent Eric Cavazos, saw the “Mexico Forever” tattoo on the subject, he relayed to Voss that they had positive identification on the subject as fugitive Richard Matt. Voss called Lairmore to confirm that the dead man was Matt. Voss then called the New York State Police down from the highway to established a perimeter around the area where Matt was shot because it was now a crime scene. Once the perimeter was established, Voss, realizing that Sweat—a man convicted of killing a deputy sheriff—was still unaccounted for and could be in the area, readied his team to move out and continue the search. Before moving out, Voss radioed to Lairmore on the situation.
Lairmore said, “As soon as I knew that Chris was good, the team was good, and that there had been no injuries to the good guys, I told him to turn over the crime scene to the New York State Police and continue the search.” Lairmore then sent the second BORTAC fire team via the NYSP Huey to the area to be inserted and link up with Voss for additional support.
Voss and his team didn’t rest on their laurels; they moved north to continue the search for Sweat. Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, June 28, State Trooper Sgt. Jay Cook observed Sweat on a road about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border. When Sweat refused to follow Cook’s command to stop running, Cook shot him twice. Sweat was taken into custody, treated at area hospitals, and returned to prison.
For Voss, who served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers Regiment, such a mission wasn’t a first. He grew up with a father who was a Vietnam veteran, and grandfathers who served in WWII. His Ranger company assisted in the first POW rescue during the Iraq invasion, April 1, 2003: the rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a supply specialist with the 507th Maintenance Company. She became a POW when her convoy was ambushed during the Battle of Nasiriyah. She was injured and captured on March 23, 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.
Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who served in the Marine Corps before joining the patrol, was also a member of the elite BORTAC team. On Dec. 15, 2010, his unit was attacked by drug cartel bandits armed with AK-47s—weapons they obtained during the flawed ATF/DOJ gun-trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.
(All images courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Featured image: BORTAC team members catch a ride aboard an OAM UH-60 in upstate New York. Photographer: Kristoffer Grogan)