Coast Guards Restrains Use of Pepper Spray, Water Hoses

Wednesday, August 11th 1999, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) -- The U.S. Coast Guard has revised its policy on use
of force after an investigation found the use of pepper spray and
fire hoses on Cuban refugees was inappropriate.

Water hoses will no longer be deployed directly against people
and pepper spray will be restricted to when there is a clear threat
to the safety of officers or refugees, Rear Adm. Thad Allen said

The new guidelines came after a June 29 confrontation between
Guardsmen and six Cubans off Surfside that prompted widespread
protests by Florida's Cuban community.

Under current immigration policy, foreigners who reach U.S.
shores are allowed to stay while they seek asylum, but those
intercepted at sea are returned to their homeland or another

News footage showed Guardsmen blasting the refugees with a hose
as they stood in their 14-foot rowboat about 150 yards from shore.
Several Guardsmen swarmed them as they jumped overboard and swam
toward land.

One of the swimmers was doused with pepper spray. Two reached
the beach and four were plucked from the water and detained aboard
a Coast Guard cutter.

No disciplinary action will be taken against the eight Guardsmen
involved in the incident. The use of pepper spray and fire hoses
was inappropriate, but the Guardsmen were not at fault and acted
under a flawed use-of-force policy, Allen said.

"I thought they would be fired," Israel Ramos Consuegra, 18,
one of the rafters, told The Miami Herald. "They are still there?
I don't know what to say."

The investigation determined that the Cubans repeatedly
threatened Coast Guard personnel and threatened to harm or kill
themselves. Those threats were not visible or audible during media
coverage, Allen said.

A spokeswoman for a prominent Cuban exile group expressed
disappointment with the Coast Guard report.

"I don't think that any of us who saw the incident on TV could
have seen that whatever they (Cubans) were doing posed a threat to
the Coast Guard," said Ninoska Perez of the Cuban American
National Foundation.

(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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