May 17, 2015 - Use of Force Incident in the British Virgin Islands
On the evening of May 17, 2015, four agents from CBP Air and Marine Operations were involved in the maritime interdiction of a suspected smuggling vessel that ended in the territorial waters of the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
A patrol aircraft had spotted a vessel traveling “lights out” with three subjects and multiple packages of suspected drugs on board. After securing permission from BVI authorities to enter their waters, the CBP vessel moved to intercept.
As the CBP vessel approached the subject vessel, the agents activated their vessel’s emergency lights and siren. The captain of the subject vessel did not stop, and instead immediately increased speed, moved erratically and attempted to ram the CBP vessel.
One of the CBP agents deployed six projectiles from his less-lethal PepperBall compressed air launcher at the captain and the console area of the subject vessel. The vessel again failed to stop, and the agent deployed an additional six projectiles from the launcher. The subject vessel again failed to stop.
Two minutes later, the agents observed muzzle flashes and heard shots from a high-powered rifle coming from the direction of the subject vessel’s captain. One agent returned fire with his CBP-issued M-4 rifle, another with his CBP handgun, and a third with a CBP shotgun. The CBP vessel then maneuvered into position to deploy disabling rounds into the subject vessel’s engine, and deployed disabling rounds to prevent the vessel from resuming flight.
Shortly after, as the agents boarded the subject vessel, one of the agents observed the captain make a quick movement towards another agent and heard gunshots.
The agent fired two rounds from his M-4 rifle at the captain. As another agent then moved to secure the captain, the captain grabbed the agent’s hand. That agent punched the captain one time in the face. The agents were then able to take the captain and the other two subjects into custody without further incident.
The agents then provided the captain with medical assistance for a gunshot wound and transferred him to an arriving BVI law enforcement vessel for transport to a hospital. Two CBP agents accompanied the captain on the BVI vessel to continue providing medical assistance. The captain died at the hospital from his injuries.
The CBP vessel sustained gunshot damage, and one agent sustained minor fiberglass shrapnel wounds to his legs when a round fired by the captain impacted the CBP vessel.
CBP agents seized 16 bundles (553 kg) of cocaine, two rifle magazines, four spent casings and 71 rounds of ammunition for an AK-47 rifle. It was later determined that the captain of the subject vessel had a criminal record for noncitizen smuggling, and the two additional subjects had arrests for cocaine and firearms.
Result of the NUFRB
On Oct. 15, 2015, the CBP National Use of Force Review Board (NUFRB) convened to review this incident. The NUFRB determined that the applications of force were in compliance with CBP use of force policy in effect at the time of the incident.
Consistent with the mandate to review and report on potential improvements to policy and training, the NUFRB made formal recommendations following their consideration of this incident.