On June 17, 2015, at approximately 8 p.m., CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) agents observed a vessel, commonly known as a panga, underway northbound off the coast of Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico. Agents observed the vessel with multiple occupants onboard. Shortly after, U.S. Coast Guard assisted with the tracking of the vessel. On June 18, 2015, at approximately 1:35 a.m., the USCG passed the position, course and speed of the vessel to an AMO crew aboard a 35 foot safe-boat.
At approximately 2:05 a.m., the safe-boat attempted to communicate with the suspect vessel, and order them to stop or heave to, by activating the safe-boat’s law enforcement emergency lights, spotlight and siren. The vessel failed to stop, or heave to, and a pursuit ensued. During the pursuit, an agent from the safe-boat fired two warning shots1 with negative results. Following the warning shots, an agent aboard the safe-boat employed disabling fire, successfully hitting the engine. At this time, the vessel made an abrupt turn to port (left) and collided with the safe-boat's starboard (right) bow. Within seconds of the collision, the suspect vessel capsized and all occupants were thrown overboard. This incident occurred approximately 10 nautical miles west of Solana Beach, California.
The crewmembers of the safe-boat immediately began pulling the occupants of the vessel from the water and onto the safe-boat. The safe boat crew recovered 19 responsive male subjects, and one unresponsive female subject from the water. Agents discovered the unresponsive female subject, later identified as Graciela Lopez-Franco, underneath the capsized vessel. The safe-boat crew commenced Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation on Lopez-Franco and assessed the injuries of the other 19 subjects recovered from the water.
During this time, the safe-boat’s Vessel Commander hailed the AMO center via radio and requested assistance. At approximately 3:15 a.m., a USCG rescue helicopter arrived. The crew hoisted the unresponsive LOPEZ-FRANCO from the safe-boat and transported her to a USCG facility in San Diego, California. LOPEZ-FRANCO was later pronounced deceased.
Agents requested Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to meet the safe-boat at Oceanside Harbor in Oceanside, California, to provide medical care to eight subjects injured as a result of the incident. At approximately 4:35 a.m., the safe-boat arrived at Oceanside Harbor and transferred the subjects to EMS and the U.S. Border Patrol. Following medical care, Border Patrol agents transported the 11 subjects to the San Clemente Border Patrol Station for processing. The eight injured subjects were treated for various injuries at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, California and subsequently released to the U.S. Border Patrol custody.
The autopsy performed by the San Diego County Medical Examiner determined that Lopez-Franco’s cause of death was drowning, and the manner of death was accident.
At the request of CBP, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG, Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) conducted an investigation, with support from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and CBP’s Use of Force Incident Team (UFIT).
Result of the UFRB
On Oct. 15, 2015, the CBP national Use of Force Review Board, consisting of senior officials from across CBP, as well as from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, convened to review the facts as investigated. The UFRB determined that the application of force by AMO agents June 18, 2015, was in compliance with CBP’s Use of Force Policy.
Consistent with the mandate to review and report on potential improvements to policy and training, the UFRB also made operational observations and policy recommendations that have been referred to appropriate operational and policy officials within CBP for consideration.
1Warning shots are less-lethal starburst projectiles designed as a signal to stop day or night as a result of a flash.