Broward County

Cuban migrant arriving on shore accused of swinging machete at officer

Cuban migrants came ashore on Dania Beach Saturday night.
Cuban migrants came ashore on Dania Beach Saturday night.

One of 11 Cuban migrants who landed on Dania Beach Saturday has been charged with assaulting a federal officer with a machete after authorities said he threatened an officer with a machete as the migrants came ashore.

Lazaro Mora Gutierrez, 40, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt Tuesday in an initial hearing after a Customs and Border Protection agent said Gutierrez swung a machete at him during a tussle with the migrants just offshore near the Dania Beach Pier.

The confrontation began at about 10 Saturday night when the U.S. Coast Guard called federal agents after spotting the migrants on a homemade wooden vessel powered by a motor, according to a complaint filed Monday. The migrants, armed with knives, machetes and other weapons, refused to turn off their boat’s motor and drop their weapons.

One migrant threw a machete that hit the side of the Customs and Border Protection boat, and officials began firing a pepper ball launcher at the migrant boat. As an officer moved closer to the migrants, Gutierrez, holding a machete, took “multiple swings with the weapon at [the officer] with intent to make damaging contact.” The officer dodged the machete, but Gutierrez dropped the first machete, picked up another knife and tried to stab himself, according to the complaint.

The migrants eventually landed on the shore, jumping off the boat and throwing themselves onto the ground. Officers fired bean bag rounds at Gutierrez, armed with a knife in his hand, and took him to custody, according to Broward Sheriff’s Office reports cited in the complaint. Five people, including Gutierrez, were taken to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. There, the officer Gutierrez threatened with a machete arrived to identify him, according to the complaint.

During a brief hearing Tuesday, Gutierrez was informed of the charges against him. Prosecutors said he posed a "a risk of flight risk and a danger to the community," the Sun Sentinel reported.

Hunt assigned the federal public defender’s office to represent Gutierrez, who said he earned about 1,000 Cuban pesos — the equivalent of about $35 — working with animals, the Sun-Sentinel reported. He is being held without bond.

It is unclear if the migrants will be allowed to stay in the U.S. under the country’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” immigration policy. Under the policy, migrants are allowed to stay in the country if they touch United States soil and sent back if caught at sea.

Earlier Tuesday, a judge ruled that 21 Cubans, who were held aboard a Coast Guard cutter for 39 days after clinging to the American Shoal lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key, must return to Cuba. To avoid capture at sea and being sent back, more migrants have become willing to injure themselves with gunshots and stab wounds.

"The increase in extreme acts we have seen, such as self-inflicted gun-shot wounds, increases the danger to both the migrants and our Coast Guard crews,” said Capt. Mark Gordon, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard 7th District in a statement. “Illegal migrants, aboard overloaded and unseaworthy vessels, are putting their lives at severe risk of injury and death.”

He said the Coast Guard and its partner agencies will continue to “patrol vigilantly” to rescue migrants who take to the sea. There have been 10 separate incidents at sea involving migrants since June 17, according to the Coast Guard.

Gutierrez will next appear in court at 10 a.m. July 5. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.