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FBI Responds to OIG Report on the Circumstances Surrounding the Attempted Capture of Filiberto Ojeda Rios

Washington, D.C. August 09, 2006
  • FBI National Press Office (202) 324-3691

Washington, D.C. - The FBI responded today to the release of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) Report entitled “A Review of the September 2005 Shooting Incident Involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Filiberto Ojeda Rios."

The OIG’s review was conducted at the request of the FBI Director after media accounts, as well as some public officials in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the FBI’s arrest operation and the death of fugitive Filiberto Ojeda Rios. By requesting the OIG review, the FBI sought the highest level of transparency and openness to outside scrutiny.

Ojeda Rios was the leader of the “Macheteros,” the violent Puerto Rican organization that claimed credit for murders, bombings, and robberies throughout the island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. The Macheteros have claimed responsibility for the murder of a police officer in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, in August 1978 and the killing of U.S. Navy sailors in Puerto Rico in 1979 and 1982. In 1985, Ojeda Rios was arrested for his participation in a 1983 Wells Fargo robbery in West Hartford, Connecticut. During the 1985 arrest Ojeda Rios shot at FBI agents, seriously wounding one of them. Ojeda Rios was convicted in 1992 of federal charges in connection with this robbery, while he was a federal fugitive. The publicly stated goal of the Macheteros is to obtain the independence of Puerto Rico by armed struggle against the United States government.

In its extensive review, the OIG confirmed the sequence of events that officials described after the incident. The OIG concluded that Ojeda Rios initiated the gunfight and opened fire on FBI agents as they attempted to enter the residence. Ojeda Rios fired 19 rounds, 8 of which struck FBI agents. One agent was seriously wounded in the abdomen. The agents, members of the specialized Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), then returned fire. The OIG determined that the agents were justified in returning fire and that the agents’ use of force in the Ojeda Rios operation, including the shot that killed Ojeda Rios, did not violate the Department of Justice Deadly Force Policy. This policy states that Department law enforcement officers may use deadly force when the officer “has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.” The OIG also concluded the delay in entering the house after Ojeda Rios was shot was based upon a legitimate concern for agent safety.

It is important to note that the OIG’s findings were based in part on the work of the Puerto Rico Institute of Forensic Sciences, who assumed the lead role in processing the scene and conducting the forensic analyses relevant to the Ojeda Rios matter. In the aftermath of the incident, the FBI deferred to the Institute for forensic analysis to avoid allegations that the FBI had manipulated the scene. The Institute’s findings were based entirely on the physical evidence; the Institute was not aware of the contents of the agents’ statements to the OIG.

Although careful planning and preparation are a part of every arrest scenario undertaken by the FBI, shooting incidents are sometimes an unfortunate result given the nature of the FBI’s mission. After any shooting incident there are important lessons to be learned, and the OIG’s review will contribute significantly to a better understanding of this case and planning for future operations.

The report set forth a number of recommendations, primarily relating to the Ojeda Rios arrest operation, which will be carefully reviewed and considered. The FBI recognizes the importance of strengthening communication and coordination between FBI Headquarters, HRT, and our field offices during significant operational matters of this nature. We appreciate the OIG’s review of this incident.