Judge drops charges in Cuban embassy attack

Alexander Alazo admitted to standing in front of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., and spraying it with gunfire, but a federal judge on April 30 declared he was “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Alazo, 46, will be treated for any mental problem he may have and will be eligible for release if doctors determine he does not pose a threat.
During the four years Alazo was in federal custody, his public defender and prosecutors had at various times played down any role that mental illness may have played in the embassy attack.
Alazo admitted he checked himself into a psychiatric facility about a month before the attack, but said his discharge papers didn’t show any mental illness diagnosis. He conceded he had heard voices in the past, but said his head was clear when he attacked the embassy. See Alazo court documents.
Alazo was born in Cuba and became a U.S. citizen on April 19, 2013, and said he worked as a massage therapist. On April 29, 2020, he set off from Middletown, Pennsylvania, on a mission to confront his “enemy,” which he later described as members of Cuban organized crime.
He thought the Cuban mafia was “surveilling him and wanted to harm him and his family,” according to a statement of facts in the case and was armed with a Century Arms AK-47 assault weapon.

Alazo reached the Cuban Embassy at 2630 16th St. in Washington on April 30, 2020. At 2:11 a.m., he stood in the rain outside the embassy and fired 32 rounds at the building, causing extensive damage, but failing to injure any of the seven employees who were inside. See Cuban Foreign Ministry statement.
Metropolitan Police Department officers arrived at 2:13 a.m. and saw Alazo holding an American flag. “Shoot me if you want to shoot me!” he yelled.
Alazo also attempted to light a Cuban flag on fire but failed. He was taken into custody without incident.

The U.S. Secret Service dispatched what it describes as “prowler agents” to the embassy. According to their report:
“Prowler Agents responded to the 3rd district to interview ALAZO, agents appropriately identified themselves to ALAZO and read ALAZO his Miranda rights. ALAZO waived his rights and agreed to speak with prowler agents.
ALAZO was dressed appropriate wearing a jacket, blue t-shirt sweat, Blue jeans and black shoes. ALAZO did
not appear to practice proper hygiene.
“ALAZO stated he was born in CUBA and served in the CUBAN Army, ALAZO migrated to Mexico in 2003 where
he met his now ex-wife (redacted) who lives in Playa del Carmen In which he lived for four years. ALAZO
migrated to Texas claiming Political Asylum in 2007, ALAZO claimed he entered the United States through
McAllen, Texas. ALAZO stated he then went to CUBA in 2014 in which he stated he began to preach at a church,
ALAZO stated while preaching at his church he began to receive threats from CUBAN organized crime
“ALAZO stated he was living between Texas at (redacted) Aubrey TX And (redacted) Middletown PA. ALAZQ stated his wife (redacted) live in the Pennsylvania address he provided. ALAZO stated he would travel back and forth from Texas because he would have to update his DMV information in Texas, but would visit his family in Pennsylvania. ALAZO stated he was living out of his car for the past nine months, because he did not want the Cuban organized criminals to harm his family. ALAZO stated he would park his vehicle at different rest stops and parking lots in Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, New York and New Hampshire, due to the belief organized Cuban criminal organizations are after him.

“ALAZO stated he was previously mentally evaluated in Pittsburg at (redacted) ALAZO stated his wife is a traveling mental health nurse, and told him to seek help because he was hearing voices in his head. ALAZO stated he was prescribed (redacted) on March 2020 after his evaluation at (redacted) hospital. ALAZO stated he was not completely compliant with his medication.
“ALAZO stated he had a Glock 19 which he bought in Texas, and traded it for an AK-47 about a month ago at (redacted) in Loudoun County, Virginia. ALAZO stated he traded the Glock 19 for the AK-47 because he wanted better protection for his family. ALAZO also stated that was the only firearm he owned and had access to.
“ALAZO stated he drove to Washington DC on the night of 4/29/2020, because he wanted to get them before they got him referring to the Cuban government for the constant threats from the Organized Cuban criminal organization. ALAZO stated he arrived at the embassy and began to yell at them, and tried to light on fire a Cuban flag but was unsuccessful. ALAZO then grabbed and American flag and yelled towards the Cuban Embassy that he was a Yankee. ALAZO then stated he proceeded to grab his AK-47 from his vehicle and shoot towards the Cuban embassy.
“ALAZO answered no to the following questions:
“Prowler Agents were requested to go back to the 3rd District to meet with DSS Special Agents, DSS special agents wanted to conduct an interview with ALAZO.
“During the interview ALAZO told DSS Specials Agents that he lived in Germany for some time, ALAZO stated he had voices two nights ago that told him to protect your family.
“ALAZO stated that he was formally employed a massage therapist but did not specify where or when. ALAZO stated that after his best friend was killed In CANADA, he believed that’s when the Cuban Criminal Organization was going after him. ALAZO told DSS agents he also began to hear those voices in his head, after his friend was killed.
“ALAZO told DSS agents his physician at the (redacted) hospital was (redacted).
“ALAZO told DSS agents he visited the Cuban embassy with his mother in 2015.”
On July 22, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted on four counts:

  • Violent Attack on an Official Premises Using a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon
  • Willfully Injuring or Damaging Property Belonging To or Occupied By a Foreign Government, International Organization, Foreign Official, or Official Guest
  • Interstate Transportation of a Firearm and Ammunition with Intent to Commit a Felony
  • Using, Brandishing, and Discharging a Firearm During a Crime of Violence.

According to Alazo’s public defender, the defendant had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and was prescribed antipsychotic medicine in March 2020.
He later told officers he left the hospital early and against doctors’ advice because he “wasn’t that crazy.” He admitted he did not always take his medicine as instructed.
For nine months before the embassy attack, Alazo lived in his car away from his wife and children. He later told police he feared that “several large black men with tattoos will come and kill him in front of his family.”

To evade the purposed assassins, Alazo said voices told him he should “travel around the United States and even to other countries.”
Despite hearing voices, Alazo was coherent at the time of his arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCulough said in an Aug. 25, 2023, document. McCulough wrote:
“The defendant was transported to the Third District station shortly before 4 a.m. The defendant was interviewed by agents of the United States Secret Service (“USSS”) from approximately 4:15 to 4:45 a.m., and the defendant executed a written waiver of his Miranda rights at approximately 4:18 a.m.
“The defendant was subsequently interviewed by agents of the Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) of the Department of State from approximately 6:55 to 8:34 a.m., and the defendant executed a written waiver of his Miranda rights at approximately 7:02 a.m.
“…During one significant moment toward the end of his interview, the defendant revealed his motivation for talking to the authorities and the consequences of that action. Specifically, the defendant told the agents that ‘I’d rather tell you the truth and you take me in jail for 40 years or whatever. God will protect me.’ The defendant then expressed regret for what he did and he acknowledged that he should have done things differently. As this exchange makes clear, the defendant was fully aware that he had taken a wrongful act, and the defendant believed that he was talking to law enforcement agents who had the power to incarcerate him for his actions. Armed with that knowledge, the defendant had made a decision to ‘tell (redacted) the truth’ even if that meant 40 years in jail.
“The defendant’s other statements and conduct throughout the interview plainly revealed that the defendant was fully aware of his conduct and focused for the entirety of the conversation. Among other things, throughout the interview, the defendant presented a narrative of events that was chronological and organized. The defendant was oriented to time and place throughout the interview. The defendant provided a thorough description of his arrival in America, and his subsequent sequence of jobs, relationships, and residences. The defendant provided a detailed description of his conduct in front of the Embassy at two different points during the interview, and the defendant recounted the details consistently and in a manner that aligned with the evidence recovered in the case. The defendant acknowledged his understanding that shooting someone would be illegal, but he explained his justification for this action as needing to protect himself.”
The prosecutor quotes Alazo as saying, “It’s illegal. I know that it’s illegal.”
Alazo’s not guilty verdict comes about two years after his public defender, Sabrina Shroff, said her client was competent to proceed to trial.
“Mr. Alazo has not exhibited any behavior indicating that he is not currently competent,” she wrote in a document filed March 1, 2022. “Nor has the Central Detention Facility (where he is detained and medicated) voiced any concern about his competency at this time.”
On July 24, 2023, Alazo notified the court that he intended to use an insanity defense. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson ordered a psychiatric exam. Dr. Paul Montalbano performed the exam at the D.C. Department of Corrections Correctional Treatment Facility. The goal was to decide whether Alazo “was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts” at the time of the attack “as a result of a severe mental disease or defect.”
“Dr. Montalbano’s report concluded that the defendant was not criminally responsible at the time of the offense,” court records show.

Even though Alazo didn’t grasp the seriousness of the embassy attack at the time, Jackson ruled that he was “competent and capable of waiving his right to be tried by jury and choosing to proceed based on stipulated facts; that he understood his right to a jury trial and the consequences of entering a plea of not guilty solely by reason of insanity; that he was acting voluntarily and of his own free will; and that his decision to proceed with a plea that he was not guilty of the charged offenses solely by reason of insanity was a knowing and voluntary one.”
On April 30, 2024, Jackson found the defendant not guilty of the four counts “solely by reason of insanity.”
She ordered that Alazo be “hospitalized for a psychiatric or psychological examination … to determine whether the defendant presents a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage of property of another due to a present mental disease or defect.”
Alazo will stay in a psychiatric facility until doctors decide he is no longer a threat. At that point, he may be released.
A May 1 order stated:
Alazo “is committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4243(a) until such time as he is eligible for release under 18 U.S.C. § 4243(f).
“It is further ORDERED, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4247(b), that for purposes of the psychiatric or psychological examination to be conducted under 18 U.S.C. § 4243(b), the defendant is hereby committed for a reasonable period, not to exceed 45 days, to the custody of the Attorney General for placement in a suitable facility. The United States Marshals Service shall maintain custody of the defendant until a suitable federal medical facility has been designated for the defendant, as determined by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In the event the defendant cannot be designated and transported today, the defendant is to be housed in a suitable medical facility pending final transfer by the United States Marshal to the facility designated by the Bureau of Prisons. It is the Court’s recommendation that the defendant remain in the D.C. Department of Corrections Correctional Treatment Facility, where he is currently undergoing treatment, while awaiting designation.
“It is further ORDERED, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4243(b) and § 4247(b) and (c), that the defendant must submit to a psychiatric or psychological examination by a licensed or certified psychiatrist or psychologist to determine whether he presents a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage of property of another person due to a present mental disease or defect, and that the examiner must file a psychiatric or psychological report with the Court.
“The Court will conduct a hearing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4243(c) in accordance with the provisions of § 4247(d) on July 1, 2024 at 9:30 am in Courtroom 25.”

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