a USDOJ: US Attorney's Office - CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA - 169
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Two Men Charged in Federal Court with Killing of Coast Guard Officer During Law Enforcement Operation Targeting ‘Panga’ Boat

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 3, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors have charged two Mexican nationals in the killing of a Coast Guard officer who died as a result of being thrown from a Coast Guard vessel that was rammed by a “panga” boat operated by the Mexicans.

A criminal complaint filed this afternoon in United States District Court charges the two men in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, a 14-year-veteran of the Coast Guard who died early yesterday morning while his boat was attempting to interdict the panga boat near Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

The two men charged with killing an officer of the United States while that officer was engaged in his official duties are:

Jose Meija-Leyva, who told investigators that he was the captain of the boat; and

Manuel Beltran-Higuera.

The two defendants will be making their initial court appearances in federal court in downtown Los Angeles later this afternoon.

Officer Horne, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident, was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint. The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open-bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a “panga” boat.

Coast Guard officers aboard the Halibut launched the Halibut’s small, rigid hull, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. on December 2. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga boat, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga boat then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat, according to the affidavit. As the panga boat rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering the small boat out of the path of the panga boat, and another officer fired several shots from his service weapon at the panga boat.

Despite these efforts, the panga boat rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Officer Horne and another officer into the water, the complaint alleges. Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a traumatic head injury. He was subsequently pronounced dead by paramedics. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.

After striking the Coast Guard’s small boat, the panga boat crew fled the scene.

Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga boat until it was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel approximately 20 miles north of the Mexico-United States border. Meija and Beltran were detained after further attempts to flee the Coast Guard, according to the complaint.

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed crimes. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The investigation in this case is being conducted by the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) in San Pedro. LA BEST is a multi-agency task force that investigates the smuggling of narcotics and illegal aliens into the United States.

Release No. 12-169

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