Agent Zapata Attack in Mexico: Lessons Learned

Zapata Ambush Attack

By ISDA Member Tom Taylor

Agent Zapata attack in Mexico

The armored, State Department-issued vehicle driven by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Jaime J. Zapata and Victor Avila. (U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia). Washington Post.

“There is no single precaution at-risk people can take that will mean more to their safety than traveling inside a fully armored car … The majority of attacks happen when the protected person is in or around the car, and these attacks succeed an astonishing 77% of the time. This statistic is, first and foremost, a clear call for having an armored car.” – Just 2 Seconds (2008).

This case is a sad story with several “lessons learned” all protectors should consider.

  1. The automatic “unlock” feature on regular vehicles when they are put into “park” must be turned off in armored vehicles; this was not done on the agents’ vehicle. Disabling the unlocking mechanism on a Suburban is a relatively simple process. The setting can be adjusted on the vehicle computer by the driver or permanently altered in favor of a manual system. When agent Zapata put the vehicle in park, it automatically unlocked the doors and the gunmen were able to jerk Avila's door open. Officials say all of the vehicles in Mexico were reprogrammed to address the flaw after Zapata’s death. But armoring contractors point out that if the computer on the Suburban is reset — by a power failure or a battery replacement — it will revert to the default setting, leaving the vehicle vulnerable again.
  2. What got agent Zapata killed and agent Avila seriously wounded was when Avila’s window was accidentally lowered 4 inches while trying to get the door closed during the attack. This enabled a gunman to shove the barrel of his AK-47 through the gap and rake their laps with 7.62 rounds. Another gunman also shoved his 9mm handgun into the gap and fired several shots. Avila was hit in the thigh and ankle and grazed by 2 other shots.Zapata was hit by 6 bullets, including one that severed his femoral artery. In this situation, even if trapped, you never give the gunmen access to the interior of the vehicle. The purpose of armor is to buy you time.
  3. Of nearly 90 rounds fired at the agents’ vehicle, none penetrated the armor; only those rounds fired through the open window struck the agents.This goes to a protector always knowing how the vehicle locks work and the value of vehicle armor.

About the Author

Tom is the co-author of the best-selling and must read book – Just 2 Seconds

Books Authored By Tom Taylor

You can reach Tom on LinkedIn and Facebook

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Lessons Learned From EP Experience Part Two – By Tom Taylor

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