Coast Guard releases investigation report on death of suspected smuggler

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard has released its Major Incident Investigation (MII) Report into the death of a suspected smuggler who was killed during a law enforcement operation 195 miles north of the Galapagos Islands Aug. 30, 2016.

Javier Darwin Licoa Nunez, 35, of Ecuador, died from fatal internal injuries caused by bullet fragments after a Coast Guard precision marksman from Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Florida, disabled his fleeing smuggling vessel’s engines in the remote drug transit zone near the Galapagos.

“The U.S. Coast Guard goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid injury to suspects during narcotics interdiction operations. It is unfortunate that in this case a suspect was fatally injured,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda. “This incident underscores the dangers posed by transnational organized crime networks that transport narcotics to the U.S.”

Nunez and three other smugglers were spotted traveling at a high rate of speed in an unregistered vessel near the Galapagos Islands Aug. 30. Coast Guardsmen aboard an armed helicopter used multiple visual and verbal warnings in both English and Spanish to signal the smugglers to stop their vessel, including warning shots. The smugglers did not comply and jettisoned what appeared to be large packages of contraband during the course of the nearly hour-long chase.

The marksman then fired rounds into the vessel’s outboard engines, disabling the vessel and bringing the pursuit to a halt. Once the smuggling vessel was stopped, a law enforcement team from the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk homeported in Key West, Florida, boarded the vessel and began first aid after discovering Nunez.

The MII investigation board was initiated Sept. 2, 2016, to inquire into the facts surrounding the mishap. The investigation report concluded that the aircrew acted in accordance with U.S. and international law and fully complied with Coast Guard tactics, policies and procedures. An autopsy confirmed the suspect was not directly hit by any gunfire but was fatally wounded by fragments from one of the 10 rounds used during disabling fire.

Nunez’ accomplices were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Florida in Miami where they pled guilty to “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S.”

The MII report is an official government record. It is not a legal determination of the Coast Guard’s position concerning this mishap. A copy of the report is publicly available in the Coast Guard’s FOIA reading room at https://www.uscg.mil/foia/FOIA_Library.asp .

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