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Wed, May 24, 2006

Prosecutors Rule Air Marshals Justified In Miami Jetway Shooting

Man's Erratic Behavior, Threats Led To Fatal Shooting

It was a clean shoot. That's the word from the Florida State Attorney's Office in Miami, FL on the shooting by federal air marshals of an American Airlines passenger on the jetway at Miami International Airport last December 7.

"The shooting death of Mr. [Rigoberto] Alpizar, while tragic, is legally justified in light of the surrounding circumstances presented to the air marshals," the report states. "It should be noted that both air marshals demonstrated remarkable restraint in dealing with Mr. Alpizar."

As Aero-News reported, 44-year Alpizar of Maitland, FL was just returning from South America with his wife, Ann Buechner. The couple were changing planes in Miami, after returning from a humanitarian mission in Ecuador on behalf of The Council on Quality and Leadership, followed by a vacation in Peru. As they settled in their seats at the rear of the plane for the final leg of the trip home, Alpizar apparently began to panic.

According to witnesses, Alpizar yelled that he had to get off the plane and ran toward the front, carrying his backpack. Several passengers -- including his wife, and two air marshals seated in first class -- testified that they heard him say he had a bomb.

Hearing that, the air marshals drew their weapons and tried to get him to lie on the floor. He didn't. They yelled in Spanish. Still, Alpizar refused to comply.

He made it onto the jetway, then turned back toward the airplane and again said he had a bomb. The backpack was strapped to his chest. When he again refused to lie down on the floor, when he continued to move toward the door of the aircraft, both marshalls fired, hitting Alpizar several times.

Alpizar had a history of bipolar disorder... and his wife said he hadn't taken his medicine during the long flight to Florida. She also told investigators his behavior had become increasingly erratic during the trip -- including leaving his wife and travelling party in Machu Picchu, Peru and unexpectedly returning to Cuzco, where his wife had to later retrieve him from.

In the report released by the state attorney's office Tuesday evening, the shooting was ruled justifiable.

"When Mr. Alpizar ran onto the jetway stating that he had a bomb and threatened to detonate it, given that he had a backpack strapped to the front of his chest and failed to comply with commands to stop and desist, the air marshals had probable cause to arrest Mr. Alpizar... because they reasonably believed he was committing, our would commit, multiple felonies involving violence in their presence," the prosecutors ruled. "As such, they could use the force they thought necessary to defend themselves and others from bodily harm while making the arrest or in preventing Mr. Alpizar from fleeing because he reasonably appeared to pose a threat of death or serious physical harm to the marshals and others."

"In addition... the air marshals could stand their ground and use deadly force because Mr. Alpizar’s actions reasonably conveyed a threat of imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves and others and served to prevent said harm or the imminent commission of a forcible felony as enumerated above."

FMI: Read The Official Ruling On The Shooting (includes graphic content)

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