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HAPCOA & FLEOA Applaud Committee Passage of Protection Act

May 13, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC – On May 13, 2021, Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) - the nation’s largest non-partisan, nonprofit professional association representing 30,000 federal law enforcement officers and agents across 65 federal agencies – applauded the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s passage of S.921, the "Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act”. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) closes a loophole created by a recent federal court ruling that jeopardizes the safety of every federal law enforcement officer and civilian federal employee deployed overseas: 

"FLEOA appreciates the work of the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act of 2021 during National Police Week. The legislation appropriately addresses a dangerous loophole and circuit court split created by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2020. The loophole places all federal law enforcement officers and civilian federal employees deployed oversees at risk. Specifically, S. 921 reinforces the centuries old policy of enforcing federal laws extraterritoriality by penalizing individuals who attack federal law enforcement officers and other federal employees stationed overseas. Absent this law, federal employees around the world are targets for those willing to attack them and have no recourse for justice,” said President Cosme. 

Cosme continued, "We encourage the Congress to act now, during National Police Week, to pass this important, bipartisan legislation and send it to the President to be signed into law. This would not only protect federal officers and civilian employees but all Americans overseas. With this legislation, Americans abroad know their country will always have their back and seek justice.”

 Background:  

    S. 921, the "Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act,” introduced in March 2021 by Senators Cornyn and Chris Coons (D-DE) addresses a gap in federal law created when a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the convictions of two members of the Los Zetas drug cartel for the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata and the critical wounding of Agent Victor Avila.     

In 2011, members of the cartel’s hit squad ambushed the two Special Agents while they were on assignment in Mexico.    

After the Obama Administration successfully sought the extradition of the attackers to the U.S. to stand trial, seven were ultimately convicted.    

In a 2020 decision in the case of United States v. Garcia Sota, however, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the convictions of two of the defendants for the murder of Special Agent Zapata and the serious wounding of Special Agent Avila.    

In a novel interpretation of the statute, the court ruled that 18 U.S.C. Section 1114 does not apply outside of the U.S.      

This decision created a circuit split and opened a dangerous loophole in federal law that placed all federal law enforcement and other governmental personnel stationed overseas at risk.    

In April 2021, after advocacy and coordination from FLEOA, DHS and the State Department sent revised text to Congress, supported by the Administration, that would clarify the extraterritorial application of three statutes under federal law:  18 U.S.C. 111 ("Assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers or employees”); 18 U.S.C. 115 ("Influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a Federal official by threatening or injuring a family member”); and 18 U.S.C. 1114 ("Protection of officers and employees of the United States”).     

The Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA) at their 45th National Law Enforcement Training Symposium, held in Baltimore in April 2019, awarded Jaime Zapata (posthumously) and Victor Avila with the HAPCOA Gold Medal of Valor in recognition of their unconditional bravery and valor as a result of their attack in Mexico.

The legislation is supported by the Women in Federal Law Enforcement, National Association of Police Organizations, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Major City Chiefs Association, National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorney’s, Senior Executives Association, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, and American Foreign Service Association.  ##

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