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DEA agent killed in Tucson Amtrak shooting was noted leader

Amtrak Train shooting
Posted at 2:27 PM, Oct 05, 2021

TUCSON, AZ — A federal agent who was shot and killed by an Amtrak train passenger concealing large amounts of marijuana in Arizona was a revered leader whose career spanned almost two decades, the agency said Tuesday.

Michael Garbo, who also went by Mike, was a group supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration. He possessed expertise and a manner that “were legendary,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement.

Garbo was loved and respected throughout the agency “for his leadership and for his unrelenting passion to protect the safety of the American people,” she said. “Above all else, he was a devoted and loving father and husband.”

Garbo joined the DEA in 2005. As a special agent and supervisor, he pursued criminal drug traffickers at the U.S.-Mexico border and in Afghanistan.

Members of the law enforcement community took to social media to describe Garbo as an excellent police officer who started out in Nashville, Tennessee. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said someone with the same name worked there between 1993 and 2005 but could not confirm he was the deceased agent.

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at state buildings remain at half-staff until sunset Wednesday in Garbo’s honor.

Garbo was killed Monday after gunfire erupted while a regional task force of DEA agents and Tucson police officers were doing an inspection of passengers’ luggage for illegal money, weapons or drugs. The inspection was prompted by tips from Amtrak, according to a federal criminal complaint released Tuesday that revealed more details about the events leading to the shooting.

A second agent and a Tucson officer also were shot several times, and a suspect was killed. The agent and officer remained in stable condition Tuesday, the DEA said. Authorities have not released their identities.

The Sunset Limited, Train 2, was carrying 137 passengers and 11 crew members traveling from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and arrived at the downtown Tucson station at 7:40 am, said Jason Abrams, an Amtrak spokesman.

The shooting occurred about 20 minutes later and sent panicked passengers running.

According to the complaint, an officer noticed a man in his 20s on the upper level of one of the double-decker train’s cars leave a backpack and two bags a few rows away. When asked, the man, identified in the complaint as Devonte Okeith Mathis, denied they were his. The officer moved them to the train platform for further inspection.

At the same time, Garbo and another DEA agent spoke with a second man in the same row as Mathis. They all went to the platform where the agents were given permission to use a drug-sniffing dog on several other bags. The man then returned to the car.

That’s when the officer questioning Mathis discovered two large bulk packages of marijuana in the backpack, the complaint said. He alerted Garbo and the other agent.

According to the complaint, Garbo and his fellow agent went back into the car to talk to the second suspect again and were ambushed by gunfire.

Garbo was pronounced dead. The second agent was rushed to the hospital in the back of a Tucson police car. That’s also when gunfire hit a Tucson police officer.

Several additional officers then responded to the scene. The armed suspect was shot and killed after firing on them, the complaint said. He was found dead inside a train restroom, according to Tucson police. His identity has not been released.

Mathis was arrested and faces federal charges of knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, according to the complaint. It was not immediately known Tuesday if he had an attorney.

A search warrant for the bags belonging to him revealed 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) of raw marijuana, 50 packages containing 3.5 grams (0.12 ounces) each of marijuana edibles and other marijuana and cannabis products. The FBI is overseeing investigation.

There were no other injuries among the train’s passengers or crew.

On Wednesday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey tweeted his condolences to Garbo's family, friends and colleagues. The Governor called the shooting "a tragedy for our state."