Phoenix Copwatch
Home | Contact

  it looks like this murder of Rigoberto Alpizar by federal air marshals at Miami International Airport is a clone of the killing of Scotland Yard murder of Charles de Menezes

Original Article

Maitland Man Shot, Killed By Air Marshals

POSTED: 3:26 pm EST December 7, 2005 UPDATED: 10:50 am EST December 8, 2005

MIAMI -- A Central Florida man was shot and killed by federal air marshals Wednesday afternoon on a jetway leading to an American Airlines plane at Miami International Airport. The man had made some sort of threat and ignored the air marshals' commands, authorities said.

The man has been identified as Rigoberto Alpizar (pictured, right), 44, of Maitland, WESH 2 News reported.

WESH 2 reporter Raoul Martinez spoke with Alpizar's mother-in-law, Stephanie Buechner, at his home. She said Alipizar and her daughter, Anne, were married for nearly 20 years. She said they do not have any children, and he suffered from bipolar disorder.

She said they were not in Colombia, which is where the plane had originated. The plane was about to depart for Orlando when the incident occurred.

Alpizar arrived at Miami International Airport on a flight from Quito, Ecuador, federal officials said. Relatives said he and his wife had been on a mission trip to Peru. All arriving passengers in Miami from outside the U.S. are required to disembark for a customs check, and Alpizar did so. He then boarded the American Airlines flight bound for Orlando.

Alpizar and his wife lived on Gillis Court in Maitland near Maitland Middle School.

Man Ignored Air Marshals' Commands Alpizar had boarded the plane bound for Orlando and claimed just before the plane was to leave that he had a bomb, officials said.

The jetway was still connected to the plane when two federal air marshals on the plane ordered him to get down on the floor. Authorities said he ran for the jetway and reached inside a backpack he was carrying. That was when an air marshal shot him.

Jim Bauer, the special agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshals service in Miami, said no bomb was found in Alpizar's bag.

His other three bags were blown up on the tarmac, but apparently they contained no explosives, either.

The plane had just arrived from Colombia and was headed on to Orlando. According to American Airlines' Web site, Flight 924 arrived from Medellin at 12:16 p.m. EST at Gate 42 in Terminal D. It was supposed to depart for Orlando at 2:18 p.m.

A high-ranking federal air marshal, who wishes to remain anonymous, told WESH 2 News reporter Claire Metz that marshals are trained to use as little force as possible until their backs are against a wall.

"When he went in the bag, they had to assume he was going for a triggering device. I'm sure they had given him verbal commands the entire time. He obviously disregarded them. They couldn't let him get his hand in the bag for obvious reasons. They don't know what kind of trigger he would have on the bomb. Even if there isn't a bomb, they don't know that," the air mashal said.

This is the first time an air marshal has shot at a passenger or suspect since the program was reconfigured after Sept. 11, 2001.

Passengers Say Man's Wife Said He Was Bipolar

Mary Gardner, a passenger on the Flight 924, told WESH 2 News that she heard four to five shots fired. She said she was seated in the third row of the coach section of the aircraft. She saw a man run frantically through the aisle from the back of the plane to the first-class area before the shots were fired.

She said a woman who was apparently traveling with the man was screaming, "My husband! My husband!"

Gardner also said other passengers said they heard the woman say that her husband was bipolar and had not taken his medication.

Gardner said she was not sure if the shooting happened in the first-class section of the airplane or outside on the jetway.

After the shooting, police boarded the plane and told passengers to put their hands on their head. Gardner said the passengers onboard remained calm and were later escorted off the plane and onto a bus.

No other injuries were reported.

Rigoberto Alpizar and Jean Charles de Menezes: Two victims of state anti-terror killings

By Bill Van Auken 12 December 2005

The state killings of Rigoberto Alpizar and Jean Charles de Menezes came four-and-a-half months apart, and an ocean separated the scenes of their violent deaths. Yet the similarities between their fates is undeniable. Both were innocent men brutally executed by undercover agentsin one case American, in the other Britishprosecuting the so-called global war on terror.

Both were Latin American immigrants, gunned down on the grounds that they supposedly posed a terrorist threat. The reaction in their home countriesBrazil in the case of de Menezes, Costa Rica in that of Alpizarwas one of anger and disbelief.

De Menezes, an electrician, was shot to death July 22 on a London subway car that he had boarded on his way to work. Plainclothes cops burst in after him and, without warning, grabbed him and shot him multiple times in the head.

Police initially reported that de Menezes had been followed leaving the home of a suspected terrorist wearing a bulky jacket on a hot day. They claimed that when they challenged him at the entrance to the subway station, de Menezes bolted over a ticket barrier and attempted to escape before he was caught, overpowered, and shot in the head by cops seeking to prevent him from detonating a bomb.

It quickly became evident that there was no bomb and that the man they had killed had no connection to terrorism whatsoever.

Citing security concerns in the war on terror, Londons metropolitan police commissioner tried to quash any independent investigation of the killing. Rejecting the notion that the police should be held accountable for killing an innocent man, he insisted that the public accept that cops have to make hard decisions in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

Within weeks of the killing, however, documents and film footage leaked to the media made it clear that every aspect of the police story on the killing was a lie, and the police commissioners concern for security was in reality part of an elaborate cover-up.

It emerged that de Menezes had come not from the house of suspected terrorists, but a different apartment in the same three-story building. He was not wearing a heavy coat, had not jumped over a ticket barrier and was never even challenged by police. He was calmly seated in the subway car when, without warning, one cop seized and held him while two others executed him, pumping seven bullets into his head.

The entire police story was made up after the fact to justify the murder of an innocent man.

Then last Wednesday came the killing of Rigoberto Alpizar, a naturalized US citizen from Costa Rica who had resided in the US for more than two decades. Returning with his wife from a missionary trip to South America, he panicked after boarding an American Airlines jet in Miami for the short trip to Orlando, and ran up the aisle.

At the front of the plane, he was confronted by two plainclothes air marshals. According to spokesmen for the secretive air marshals service and the Department of Homeland Security, after Alpizar left the aircraft he said he had a bomb and disregarded orders to drop a bag he was carrying. According to these accounts, when he reached into the bag, the marshals shot him. Passengers reported hearing at least five shots.

No one has come forward to corroborate the marshals story, outside of an agency spokesperson who claimed that Alpizar had run up and down the aisle shouting, I have a bomb in my bag. This version of the event has been disputed by every passenger interviewed by the media.

Instead, Alpizars fellow passengers reported him saying, before he ran up the isle, that he had to get off the plane. They further recounted that his wife came running after him shouting that he was sick, that he was bipolar and had not taken his medicine. Not one of them heard the word bomb.

Why did the marshals service spokesman make up the story about him shouting about a bomb as he ran up and down the aisle? Undoubtedly, for the same reason that the London police described Jean Charles de Menezes wearing a heavy coat and jumping over a ticket barrier in flight, when in fact he was wearing no such clothing and had paid his fare, not even knowing that he was being pursued.

In both cases, it quickly became apparent that the police had taken the life of an innocent man, and alibis were needed both to exonerate the individual officers and uphold the infallibility of the security forces.

How much else of the air marshals explanation of why they shot Rigoberto Alpizarhis talk of having a bomb, his disregarding their order to put down his bag, his reaching into itis a lie? Like the official account of the de Menezes shooting, it is undoubtedly a fabrication.

There are, however, differences worth noting in the reactions to the two shootings in London and Washington. Last July, in Britain, police officials, the foreign minister and others quickly declared their regrets over the killing. Prime Minister Tony Blair announced how desperately sorry he was about the shooting and declared his deep sympathy for the de Menezes familys loss. He quickly added, of course, that none of this should interfere with unconditional support for the police in doing the job they have to do in order to protect people in this country. In other words, such killings were inevitable and more were to be expected.

In Washington, there was little expression of even feigned sorrow or sympathy. Bush has said nothing about the killing of Alpizar, and his spokesman merely praised the air marshals for their extensive training, declaring, We are appreciative of all that our air marshals do day in and day out in terms of trying to protect the American people.

Beyond our expectations

The right-wing Republican Congressman from FloridaAlpizars own representativeJohn Mica, who heads up the House subcommittee dealing with aviation security, was clearly gratified by the state murder of his constituent. This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations, he declared.

While the de Menezes killing was treated for some time by the British media as a significant controversy, the American press and broadcast news have dropped the Alpizar story after just three days, his murder eclipsed by an airplane overshooting the runway and accidentally killing a six-year-old child in Chicago. That could change, should damning videotape come to light in the Miami shooting.

The contrastat least on the surfacebetween the reactions of the Blair and Bush governments and the media to two very similar events is not a mere accident. It is to be explained, in the first place, by differences in the social and cultural physiognomies of the two countries.

As reactionary as the British government of Tony Blair is, as profoundly antidemocratic its political agenda, and as polarized as British society is between the elite haves and the masses of have nots, Britain is still no match for the US when it comes to extremes of social inequality, the brutality and underlying violence of class relations, and the backwardness of the political and media establishment. The US is, after all, one of a handful of industrialized countries that continues the barbaric practice of capital punishment.

Hundreds of people are shot dead by police in the US every year. These killings are so commonplace that no government agency even bothers to keep accurate figures on how many die annually in fatal encounters with the police. According to some estimates, a third or more of the victims are mentally ill.

In Britain, police killings have claimed approximately 30 victims in the last dozen yearsalthough, with the de Menezes killing and the Blair governments shoot to kill policy, the British police may soon be catching up with their colleagues across the Atlantic.

Whatever the differences in form and style, however, the similarities are overwhelming and chilling.

The cold-blooded killing of an innocent, emotionally and mentally distraught man desperately trying to get off an airplane and the police execution of a young electrician taking a train to work are both defended as inevitable collateral damage in the global war on terrorism. The public is told that such atrocities are necessaryalong with secret prisons, torture, disappearances, targeted assassinations and unprovoked wars of aggressionto keep everyone safe.

The same rationale has been given for sweeping attacks on democratic rights on both sides of the Atlantic, codified in the USA Patriot Act and the recently enacted Terrorism Bill in Britain. Bedrock legal principles such as habeas corpus that date back to the Magna Carta are being breached in the name of combating the supposedly unprecedented and omnipresent threat of terrorism. Giving police unfettered powers to act as judge, jury and executioner is an integral part of this process.

It is these measures themselves that constitute the gravest threat to the safety, lives and liberty of people in both Britain and America. This was confirmed in concrete terms on board American Airlines Flight 924 in the immediate and terrifying aftermath of the killing of Alpizar.

Police stormed the plane, threatening other passengers. They stuck guns in our faces... They were waving the barrels, shouting ... No one move!, passenger Jorge Borelli told the New York Daily News. They didnt say well shoot you if you take your hands off your head, but they said, You will be considered a threat and we will deal with you accordingly, he said. That was the scariest part. I thought, God, if someone freaks out and jumps up, theyre going to start shooting.

After being held at gunpoint for nearly half an hour, all of the passengers were marched off the plane, their hands on their heads, to be frisked, sniffed by dogs and then detained for several more hours of questioning.

There is no evidence whatsoever that such deranged police state measuresMiami authorities assured the public that the SWAT team, like the marshals, was following procedureshave any deterrent effect on terrorism.

Indeed, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission formed by the Bush administration to whitewash its response toand possible complicity inthe September 11, 2001 attacks issued a report last week that declared the governments failure to make substantive security improvements over the past four years shocking.

That is because the supposed concern over terrorism has from the beginning served merely as a multipurpose pretext. It has been used to justify the implementation of wide-ranging policies of war and repression that had been drawn up well before the planes ever struck New Yorks Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

In the final analysis, these policies are aimed at benefiting a small financial oligarchy whose interests are so inimical to those of the vast majority of working people that it and its political representatives have abandoned even the pretense of a commitment to democratic rights. Rather, this ruling layerboth in Britain and the UShas increasingly seen constitutional rights and civil liberties as intolerable impediments to the pursuit of policiesthe destruction of living standards and social services, tax cuts for the rich, predatory warsthat are opposed by the great majority of the people.

Jean Charles de Menezes and Rigoberto Alpizar were both victims of this process, and they will not be the last.

Air marshals shoot unarmed man in a Florida airport

Dead because he was mentally ill

By Elizabeth Schulte | December 16, 2005 | Page 2

RIGOBERTO ALPIZAR didnt have a chance. The 44-year-old, unarmed man with a bipolar disorder was shot to death December 7 in a Miami airport by air marshals who said they thought he was detonating a bomb.

Alpizar had run off American Airlines Flight 924, which was waiting to leave the gate for a trip to Orlando, Fla.. He made it to the jetway connecting the plane to the airport concourse when marshals opened fire and killed him. No bomb was found.

James Bauer, a special agent in charge of federal air marshals in Miami, said the marshals acted appropriately in response to Alpizar, who, they claim, uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb.

Passengers on the flight, however, tell another story. I dont think they needed to use deadly force with the guy, John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla., told Time magazine. He was getting off the plane. I never heard the word bomb on the plane, McAlhany said. I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous.

Passengers say that Alpizars wife, Anne Buechner, ran after her husband when he took off down the aisle toward the jetway. She was running behind him, saying, Hes sick. Hes sick. Hes ill. Hes got a disorder, McAlhany said. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane.

Another passenger, Alan Tirpak, told CNN, She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick...she just kept saying the same thing over and over, and thats when we heard the shots.

McAlhany described the terrifying scene that followed, as armed marshals took over the plane. They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground, he said. One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel.

Before Alpizar started to run off the plane, McAlhany said that he heard him arguing with his wife: He was saying, I have to get off the plane. She said, Calm down.

Alpizar grabbed his backpack and ran off the plane. When marshals caught up with him and ordered him to lie down on the ground, Alpizar wasnt fast enough. Some witnesses say the marshals fired as many as six times.

The White House immediately defended the marshals. From what we know, the team of air marshals acted in a way that is consistent with the training that they have received, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.

The two air marshals who killed Alpizar are among thousands hired after September 11, when the program of placing usually undercover agents on passenger flights was expanded from 33 to more than 6,000. Another marshal, who requested anonymity because they are forbidden to talk to reporters, told the New York Times that their rules for use of force were basically same as any other law enforcement officer.

That's bad news for people, like Rigoberto Alpizar, who have a mental disorder. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with mental disorders are four times more likely to be killed by the police.

It's also bad news for immigrants. Alpizar, who was originally from Costa Rica and received his U.S. citizenship several years ago, was described by neighbors in Maitland, a suburb of Orlando, as quiet and friendly. He worked as a paint salesman at Home Depot. When he was shot, he was returning from a trip with a church group to Quito, Ecuador.

But, like Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian immigrant shot by British police who believed he was responsible for the July subway bombings in London, Alpizar was guilty until proven innocent. This is the real face of security in Bush and Blairs war on terror.

Fatal jetway shooting poses some questions

When federal air marshals shot and killed a passenger in Miami last week, authorities were quick to defend their actions as "textbook."

So were politicians.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the sky marshals appeared to have "acted consistent with their extensive training."

And the chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said the marshals' actions "should send a message to a terrorist or anyone else who is considering disrupting an aircraft with a threat."

There is no question that the passenger, Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, a Maitland, Fla., man who apparently once lived in Milwaukee, was acting erratically as American Airlines flight from Miami to Orlando was boarding.

According to various news accounts, Alpizar was muttering and then ran up and down the aisles and then tried to get off the plane. His wife reportedly was pursuing him, yelling, "My husband, my husband." According to news reports, passengers said Alpizar's wife said he was bipolar and had not taken his medication.

Authorities said that at some point he mentioned a bomb - although other passengers dispute that. As he bolted from the plane, air marshals caught up with him in the jetway where he reportedly refused orders to lie down and was then shot when he reached into a carry-on bag.

No bomb was found. Nor was there any indication that Alpizar, who has relatives in Wisconsin and was considered a "nice guy" was part of any terrorist plot of any sort.

From what we know at this point, he was simply a man with a history of mental illness who had an episode in the worst possible place.

Police and Homeland Security authorities are continuing to investigate, but, it seems quite improbable that the sky marshals will be faulted - it will likely go down as simply a tragic mistake.

But it shouldn't end there.

There should be more second-guessing than that. This was, after all, the first time the sky marshals program has had an instance in which marshals fired shots since it was beefed up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

At the time the sky marshals numbered only 33. Today their ranks stand at about 2,000 men and women and their budget is $600 million a year.

Some will argue that the record of the past four years suggests it has been an effective deterrent to another terrorist attack. Others would argue the reverse - that there have been no episode in which marshals have blocked any plotters from seizing an aircraft and the only time they have fired their weapons was to kill an unarmed man.

Those are polar views, of course, by there remain questions in between. The Federal Air Marshal Program has been bumped from agency to agency within the Department of Homeland Security and there have been reports of morale problems within the program - a charge which Homeland Security officials deny.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, there have been clashes between sky marshals and new management which has come from retired Secret Service ranks over operating procedures, dress code and an effort to expand their ranks by moving up passenger screeners. In November, the Times said, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Homeland Security over a policy that forbids marshals from speaking publicly about their jobs or criticizing the service.

News reports have also said that the 13 weeks of air marshal training includes instruction in how to distinguish between a terrorist ruse and the bad behavior of a drunken or disturbed passenger. Perhaps that instruction could use another look since it certainly had a tragic conclusion in the Alpizar case. Still other reports have suggested arming sky marshals with tasers - and in fact United Airlines had trained its crews in their use but abandoned the plan when it filed for bankruptcy.

All of this is second-guessing, of course. But that's what should come from the Alpizar case - it's a chance to clear the air and make national security better.

Family Of Man Killed By Marshals In Miami Wants Answers Brother Says Shooting Was Unjustifiable

POSTED: 2:16 pm EST December 10, 2005 UPDATED: 3:19 pm EST December 10, 2005

RIO CLARO DE GOLFITO, Costa Rica -- Family members of a man who was shot dead by air marshals in Miami after allegedly announcing he had a bomb demanded an explanation of the killing from U.S. authorities Friday.

"I can't understand why U.S. authorities killed my son in this way. He was not a terrorist," Carlos Alpizar, the 72-year old father of Rigoberto Alpizar told The Associated Press in the family home in Rio Claro de Golfito, near the Panama border about 190 miles south of Costa Rica's capital, San Jose.

"Rigoberto loved everything about his second country," he said "And look, they killed him like a dog."

Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, left his native Costa Rica for the United States two decades ago. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and worked for the U.S. chain Home Depot.

Federal officials say Alpizar made a bomb threat in the jetway, after running out of the plane. They said they opened fire because Alpizar ignored their orders to stop, instead reaching into his backpack.

Alpizar's brother, named Carlos Alpizar like his father, said the shooting was unjustifiable.

"They say he was carrying a bomb, but Rigoberto and his wife had passed the security zone, they were checked thoroughly and still they killed him," he said.

Alpizar's remains will be buried next to those of his mother, Francisca Medina, in a cemetery in Cariari de Pococi, about 40 miles northeast of San Jose.

"We want them to rest together," said the elder Carlos Alpizar, explaining that the family had reached an agreement with Rigoberto Alpizar's wife, U.S. citizen Anne Buechner, to bury Rigoberto in his homeland.

Buechner told witnesses and police that Rigoberto suffered from bipolar mental disorder and was off his medication when he became agitated and began running through the aisles of a commercial airliner that was about to depart from Miami to Orlando on Wednesday.

However on Thursday, another brother Rolando Alpizar told Costa Rican Channel 7 television that family members were not aware that his brother had any mental problems and he described Rigoberto as "a very honest, very hardworking, responsible person."

The father said his son called him often and came home last July to accompany him to the doctor for a heart problem. Before he returned to the United States, he left notes throughout the house to remind his father to take his medication.

President Abel Pacheco, who is a psychiatrist, told radio station Nuestra Voz on Thursday that he would seek an investigation into the matter. He remarked that people in the United States "are living in a state of collective hysteria and if the police say, 'Get down,' you get down."

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar said the government would look into possibly helping the family with the cost of transferring Alpizar's body back to his homeland.

Questions Raised: Are Air Marshals Prepared to Handle Mentally Ill Passengers?

The Press Enterprise

The death of a bipolar airline passenger at the hands of federal air marshals has raised questions about whether the people charged with preventing violence in the skies are adequately trained to handle mentally ill passengers.

Several experts on mental illness and police training said they did not fault air marshals for fatally shooting Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami International Airport. But they suggested the Federal Air Marshal Service should re-examine how it trains marshals to deal with people who act erratically or irrationally due to mental illness or other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease.

"This guy was mentally disturbed; he wasn't a terrorist, and he didn't have a bomb and the air marshals took him down, which is what they are trained to do," said Andrew Thomas, an aviation analyst at the University of Akron in Ohio.

"As it is right now, if an air marshal sees something that he perceives to be a threat to the aircraft, be it a hijacking or a potential explosive, the response is to shoot first and ask questions later," said Thomas, author of two books on aviation security.

Alpizar and his wife had just boarded an American Airlines flight from Miami to Orlando on Wednesday when he bolted from the plane with his arms flailing. Chasing him was his screaming wife - and a federal air marshal.

Witnesses said the man's wife frantically tried to explain that he was mentally ill and had not taken his medication.

Alpizar was shot moments later on a jetway after he apparently reached for his backpack, authorities said. Two air marshals were on the flight, and both fired at Alpizar, federal officials said.

The White House said Thursday that the air marshals appeared to have acted properly when they killed Alpizar, who claimed to have a bomb in his backpack.

Some passengers at Ontario International Airport on Thursday said they supported the air marshals' handling of the incident.

Some faulted Alpizar's wife for not calming him down. They said she should have made sure he took his medication before going into a tense situation like an airplane trip.

If a person's outbursts can't be controlled, that person should avoid mass transit, said Marilyn Rohr, 57, of Bangor, Maine. Rohr said delays caused by the Miami shooting were partly responsible for her spending two days in limbo while traveling between Boston and Ontario.

Another air passenger, Tim Whitacre, said air marshals couldn't be expected to know Alpizar was in the midst of a psychiatric crisis.

"It's not like he had `I'm bipolar and didn't take my medication' tattooed on his forehead," said Whitacre, 25, of Frankford, Mo.

Dave Adams, an air marshals spokesman, said the officers receive some training in dealing with "abnormal behavior." However, when they feel their lives are threatened, they react to forcibly take control, Adams said.

But several mental health experts said law enforcement officers can use other tactics for identifying and dealing with people who are mentally ill - but they need to be trained.

Risdon Slate, a criminology professor at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, said police officers are used to commanding respect and taking charge of a situation. Someone suffering from a mental illness might not react well to that approach.

"It may not be because someone's trying to be a jerk but maybe because the person's mentally ill," said Slate, who earned his doctorate at what is now Claremont Graduate University in Claremont.

Slate has trained police officers in how to calm someone suffering from a psychiatric crisis. Slate has an unusual perspective on the issue: Like the man killed in Miami, Slate is bipolar. He once was jailed after suffering a psychiatric crisis.

Slate said he doesn't know what kind of training air marshals received in alternatives for dealing with passengers with a mental illness or brain disorder, or whether they had any alternatives other than their handguns.

In some circumstances, a less-lethal stun-gun or bean-bag gun might be preferable to using a firearm, Slate said, although he did not know whether the marshals had access to such equipment.

Whatever their training, Slate said he hopes the federal government re-examines how it prepares air marshals to handle people with mental disorders.

"Unfortunately . . . crisis drives policy," he said.

Inland law enforcement officials say they train new officers in handling mentally ill people along with the other police-academy courses in firearms, use of force and search and seizure.


There are about 30,000 flights per day into and around the United States, Thomas said. Anywhere from 5 percent to 7 percent of the daily flights across the nation are carrying air marshals, and most of those are international flights, he said.

"If you fly from Ontario to Cleveland, it's more likely you are not going to have an air marshal on the plane, because its not a high-risk flight," Thomas said.

Most details about the Federal Air Marshal Service are closely held. The group has forbidden its members to speak publicly about their jobs and reveals only basic and generally vague information about their methods and training.

Adams said air marshals get two courses on dealing with passengers who act strangely. The first comes during a seven-week program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M. That program is a basic law enforcement session. They get more specific training on unruly passengers later at a training center in Atlantic City, N.J.

Adams said the training deals with strange behavior, but when strange behavior takes a more threatening posture, lethal force quickly becomes an option.

The air marshals date back 30 years to the sky marshal program created to deter hijackings of flights to Cuba.

When terrorists hijacked four planes on 9/11, fewer than 50 marshals were available to guard flights each day.

In November 2001, the newly formed Transportation Security Administration was given 10 months to expand the air-marshal program from a few dozen to several thousand.

According to the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, the rapid ramp-up led to shortcuts on training and security clearances. Air marshal training, designed as a 14-week program, was cut to five weeks for candidates with no law enforcement experience. Others had just one week.

In recent years, the Federal Air Marshal Service has sent active officers back for training on some of the skills that were skipped initially.


Thomas, the air security author, said that without more information about Wednesday's shooting, it was hard to say whether the Miami air marshals acted appropriately.

Thomas said he expects the number of onboard confrontations between troublesome passengers and air marshals to increase, especially after a planned Dec. 22 relaxation of rules that prohibit air travelers from bringing some types of short-bladed scissors and tools on board airliners.

"If we don't upgrade the training of flight attendants and air marshals to be prepared to be deal with these permitted items, situations like (Wednesday's) will become more frequent," he said.

Adding to the potential for conflict is the rising incidence of air rage and increasing frustration among air passengers, he said.

Data show a direct relationship between the number of onboard disturbances involving passengers and the number of complaints air travelers lodge with the federal Department of Transportation, he said. In recent months, complaints jumped 30 percent as travelers griped about overbooked flights, delays and long waits tied to security, Thomas said.

Huntington Beach firearms instructor Greg Block, whose firm trains law-enforcement agencies, said air marshals lack some of the tools and resources police on the ground can utilize.

Police officers can use their uniformed presence, verbal commands, and other tools such as batons and pepper spray to try to control a situation. They also can call for backup, an option obviously not available to marshals once they're airborne.

The other issue at play in Wednesday's shooting - the plight of the mentally ill - puts attention on what one expert called a poorly funded mental health system that increasingly leaves people untreated.

About 2 percent of the population has a severe mental illness, but about 40 percent of those people are not getting treated, said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia.

Many states do not allow mentally ill people to be hospitalized involuntarily unless they risk harming themselves or others, she said.

"By law, you're letting people get on planes with severe mental illness," she said.

* * *

Staff writers Lisa O'Neill Hill and Naomi Kresge, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

* * *


Californians who may have a diagnosable mental illness: ONE IN 5

Number who may have a serious mental illness: ONE IN 15

In California, emergency calls to sheriff offices related to a mental illness crisis: 9 PERCENT

Nationally, people with mental illness are FOUR TIMES more likely than the general public to be killed by police in justifiable homicides.

Police are more likely to be killed by a person with a mental illness than by someone with a prior arrest for assaulting police or resisting arrest.


* * *



BASIC TRAINING: A minimum of 664 hours in a police academy required, although most police academies in the state offer between 900 and 1,000 hours of instruction.

CURRICULUM: Officers learn how to use firearms, study criminal search-and-seizure laws, and learn basic police work.

SPECIALIZED TRAINING: After academy graduation, officers are partnered with field-training officers for at least 10 weeks.


BASIC TRAINING: Fourteen-week program. Candidates spend first seven weeks at a training center in Artesia, N.M.

CURRICULUM: Basic law-enforcement skills.

SPECIALIZED TRAINING: Candidates spend seven weeks at a training center in New Jersey, where they learn such skills as how to work in the confined space of a passenger cabin. Also, must pass an advanced marksmanship course and spend one week training with an airline.