Justice watchdog says DEA botched deadly Honduras missions

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and Justice Department officials about an aggressive strategy that led to a series of deadly confrontations involving agents in Honduras, government watchdogs wrote in a scathing report released Wednesday.

The offensive, known as Operation Anvil, involved U.S. State Department helicopters and a special team of DEA agents working with Honduran security forces to stop planes carrying cocaine into the country. The report found sweeping problems with the DEA’s response to three violent encounters associated with the effort in 2012, including a May raid that killed four people and wounded four others, whom locals said were innocent civilians traveling the river near the village of Ahuas at night.

The agency poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, according to the report released by inspectors general for the Justice and State departments.

The DEA said in a statement that the team involved in the effort — called the Foreign Advisory and Support Team— no longer operates overseas, among other changes.

But the agency’s efforts to disrupt drug smuggling abroad continue. It said it was implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, which include more thoroughly investigating shootings that happen during work with foreign law enforcement agents.

The May 11 shooting on the river happened after a boat collided with a disabled canoe being used by law enforcement agents to carry cocaine seized earlier that day. DEA officials insisted the people on the boat were drug traffickers who fired first, and the lawmen were acting in self-defense. They maintained that account even as further information showed otherwise.

“Even as information became available to DEA that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip, DEA officials remained steadfast — with little corroborating evidence —that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers” trying to get the drugs back.

The report found DEA’s review of the shooting, conducted only after mounting public pressure, was “little more than a paper exercise.” Investigations of two other deadly encounters in June and July were more thorough but still inadequate, it said.

DEA then failed to cooperate with investigations by the State Department and Honduran government officials. The agency also provided inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress about the May raid and mischaracterized its role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort, the report said.

DEA, Honduran and State Department officials tried to “perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures. This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents.”

The report also says State Department officials misled the public with inaccurate talking points that mischaracterized DEA’s role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort.

Similarly, embassy officials prepared talking points for an Associated Press interview with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras reiterating that DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.”

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Justice watchdog says DEA botched deadly Honduras missions

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and Justice Department officials about an aggressive strategy that led to a series of deadly confrontations involving agents in Honduras, government watchdogs wrote in a scathing report released Wednesday.

The offensive, known as Operation Anvil, involved U.S. State Department helicopters and a special team of DEA agents working with Honduran security forces to stop planes carrying cocaine into the country. The report found sweeping problems with the DEA’s response to three violent encounters associated with the effort in 2012, including a May raid that killed four people and wounded four others, whom locals said were innocent civilians traveling the river near the village of Ahuas at night.

The agency poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, according to the report released by inspectors general for the Justice and State departments.

The DEA said in a statement that the team involved in the effort — called the Foreign Advisory and Support Team— no longer operates overseas, among other changes.

But the agency’s efforts to disrupt drug smuggling abroad continue. It said it was implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, which include more thoroughly investigating shootings that happen during work with foreign law enforcement agents.

The May 11 shooting on the river happened after a boat collided with a disabled canoe being used by law enforcement agents to carry cocaine seized earlier that day. DEA officials insisted the people on the boat were drug traffickers who fired first, and the lawmen were acting in self-defense. They maintained that account even as further information showed otherwise.

“Even as information became available to DEA that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip, DEA officials remained steadfast — with little corroborating evidence —that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers” trying to get the drugs back.

The report found DEA’s review of the shooting, conducted only after mounting public pressure, was “little more than a paper exercise.” Investigations of two other deadly encounters in June and July were more thorough but still inadequate, it said.

DEA then failed to cooperate with investigations by the State Department and Honduran government officials. The agency also provided inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress about the May raid and mischaracterized its role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort, the report said.

DEA, Honduran and State Department officials tried to “perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures. This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents.”

The report also says State Department officials misled the public with inaccurate talking points that mischaracterized DEA’s role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort.

Similarly, embassy officials prepared talking points for an Associated Press interview with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras reiterating that DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.”

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‘Joker’ arrested after pointing gun at passing vehicles, police say

A Miami-Dade County man whose green hair and face tattoos resemble the look of Batman’s nemesis the Joker was arrested Tuesday after pointing a gun at passing vehicles, police said.

Lawrence Sullivan, 29, faces a charge of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

According to a Miami-Dade police report, police were alerted about a man with green hair and tattoos on his face standing at the corner of Southwest 104th Street and Hammocks Boulevard, pointing a gun at passing vehicles.

An officer spotted a man matching that description walking out of the Hammocks Place apartments. When the officer asked the man, later identified as Sullivan, if he was armed, Sullivan said he had a gun in his pocket, police said.

Sullivan told the officer that he didn’t have a permit because it was too expensive, police said.

Among the man’s face tattoos are the words “Joker” stenciled across his forehead, next to a Batman logo with profanity scribbled within it.

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Man beats woman after stealing iPhone on bus in Miami, police say

A woman was beaten after a man stole her iPhone on April 18, police said.

The Miami Police Department said the woman was sitting on a Miami-Dade Transit bus on her way to school in the area of Northwest Third Avenue and Northwest 14th Street about 6:30 a.m. when the man snatched her iPhone from her hand, got off the bus and ran north on Northwest Third Avenue.

Police said the victim chased the man for a few blocks before losing sight of him and returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve her backpack. When she arrived, she saw the thief, approached him and asked for her phone back, but he told her he didn’t have it, police said.

Police said the victim used her Apple Watch to activate the pinging feature on her phone and heard the phone pinging in the man’s pocket.

Police said the man then shoved the victim and struck her repeatedly until they both fell to the ground. The victim struggled for her phone and the man eventually got up and ran away, leaving behind the iPhone, police said.

The thief was last seen wearing a black zip-up hooded sweatshirt with thin white lines, a yellow polo shirt, black cargo pants, black sneakers and a black book bag.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police at 305-603-6370.

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