Robeson County man in distress was shot ‘multiple’ times by SWAT team, autopsy shows

By Sarah Nagem

Matthew Oxendine, who was shot and killed by a Robeson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team on Jan. 9, sustained “multiple” gunshot wounds to his skull, heart, spinal cord and other parts of the left side of his body, autopsy results show. 

Deputies went to Janice Road near Pembroke that night after Oxendine, 46, called 911 and hung up. He had a history of calling law enforcement when he was drinking alcohol or using drugs, according to his family. 

At least 36 wounds on Oxendine’s body were identified in the autopsy report, which was released Thursday by the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. But it’s hard to tell how many times Oxendine was shot, according to the report, because multiple weapons were used and some injuries were likely the result of bullets exiting his body.

Matthew Oxendine was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in Robeson County, North Carolina, on Jan. 9, 2021.
Photo courtesy of Greg Oxendine

According to an investigative report from the medical examiner’s office, Oxendine was shot with a high-powered rifle, 12-gauge shotgun and .40-caliber handgun. 

The death of Oxendine, a member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, has raised questions about the deputies’ actions, particularly because the sheriff’s office was familiar with his mental health and substance abuse struggles. 

“I think the word that jumps out most is ‘excessive,’” said Bakari Sellers, a civil rights attorney representing Oxendine’s family. “I think this is the definition of excessive.” 

The sheriff’s office has said deputies went to find Matthew Oxendine that night after a 911 dispatcher called back after the hangup. That’s when Oxendine said he was just going to “bleed out,” according to the call. 

Oxendine set fire to the interior of the PT Cruiser where he was sitting in the driver’s seat, the sheriff’s office said, and he pointed “what appeared to be a firearm.” 

“If a firearm’s involved, you want to be prepared,” Maj. Howard Branch with the sheriff’s office said last month. “Things can go south pretty quickly.” 

Sellers has said Matthew Oxendine did not have an “operable” firearm with him at the time. 

Oxendine’s brother, Greg Oxendine, previously told the Border Belt Independent that Matthew Oxendine began using crack cocaine when he was young and was diagnosed with depression in 2016. 

Matthew Oxendine had cocaine and the cough suppressant dextromethorphan in his system when he died, according to a toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office. 

Greg Oxendine said the autopsy report confirms what he believed all along about his brother’s death: “They mutilated him.”

Sellers said deputies should have handled things differently that night. 

“They murdered a man, using grotesquely excessive force in response to a mental health call,” he said. “In an ideal world, Matthew Oxendine would be alive today and in therapy.”

A Robeson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team fired several rounds into the vehicle where Matthew Oxendine was sitting on Jan. 9, 2021. Photo courtesy of Greg Oxendine