U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a statement regarding the deaths of two suspects following an attempt to inspect their vessel.
On January 14, 2023, the Caribbean Air and Marine Operations Center detected a suspected target of interest north of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and continued to monitor the suspect vessel as a CBP vessel from the CBP marine docks in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, was dispatched to intercept it. Three CBP Marine Interdiction Agents and a Puerto Rico Police Department task force officer on board the CBP vessel departed the docks in Ceiba at approximately 11:30 p.m.
The CBP vessel approached the suspect vessel from the stern position with the CBP vessel’s lights and sirens activated at approximately 12:19 a.m. on January 15. The CBP agents gave commands using the vessel’s loudspeaker in English and Spanish for the vessel to stop and the occupants to show their hands. The captain and co-captain ignored the commands and fled in the vessel to avoid apprehension. The CBP vessel followed the suspect vessel with emergency equipment activated and issued repeated commands to stop as CBP agents observed individuals throwing packages of suspected narcotics overboard while the vessel distanced itself from the CBP vessel.
CBP agents initiated the small boat interdiction program protocols and, after two visual warning flares, disabled the starboard engine of the vessel using a shotgun at approximately 12:20 a.m. While the CBP vessel repositioned and prepared to shoot and disable the port side engine, the CBP agents saw the co-captain of the suspect vessel with a rifle. The CBP agents told the co-captain to drop the rifle, but the co-captain raised the rifle. A CBP agent fired his CBP rifle, striking the co-captain in the torso. The captain of the suspect vessel then moved to pick up the co-captain’s rifle. The task force officer discharged his rifle striking the captain of the suspect vessel in the torso. Another CBP agent fired his rifle simultaneously at the port side engine which stopped the suspect vessels forward movement. CBP agents positioned the CBP vessel alongside the suspect vessel and boarded at approximately 12:22 a.m., taking the occupants into custody. Two CBP agents boarded the vessel to provide aid to the captain and co-captain, however they were unresponsive. The CBP agents checked the vital signs of both subjects and no pulse was detected for either man.
Four other individuals on the suspect vessel complied with the CBP agents verbal commands and were taken into custody without injury and transferred to the CBP vessel along with the suspect’s semi-automatic rifle. CBP agents continued to provide first aid to the captain and co-captain. All six occupants onboard the suspect vessel were determined to be citizens of the Dominican Republic with no legal documents to enter the United States.
The suspect vessel was identified as a grey “Yola” or small open bow boat with two outboard motors, extra fuel containers and food. Approximately 804 kilograms of cocaine were recovered from the vessel and the ocean. An additional CBP Vessel and a Puerto Rico Police Department vessel arrived on scene and assisted in towing the Yola back to Ceiba, Puerto Rico, where emergency medical personnel were awaiting their arrival.
The CBP vessel and the towed Yola arrived at the docks at 3:55 a.m. The captain and co-captain were declared deceased by the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety Medical Emergency Section. The Yola captain and co-captain were both identified and confirmed to be citizens of the Dominican Republic.
This incident is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Puerto Rico Police Department; and it is under review by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The DHS Office of Inspector General was also notified. This incident will be reviewed by CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board at the conclusion of the review.