DHS report admits air marshals 'overreacted' in airport shooting By DOUG THOMPSON Publisher, Capitol Hill Blue Dec 11, 2005, 20:50
Although the department claims otherwise publicly, a confidential internal report within the Department of Homeland Security admits air marshals "overreacted" when they gunned down a Florida man at Miami International Airport last week.
The report, which may never be released publicly, confirms that preliminary interviews with witnesses conflict the statements of air marshals who claim Rigoberto Alpizar shouted he had a bomb as he stormed off a plane and up a jetway at the airport.
"Although witness statements contain conflicting information, none of those interrogated following the incident collaborate any utterance by the suspect that he either possessed, or intended to detonate, an explosive device," the report says.
A Department of Homeland Security source, unhappy with what he calls the agency's "blatant attempt to whitewash this incident," disclosed the contents of the report to Capitol Hill Blue.
Publicly, DHS and the Air Marshal Service claim the two agents who brought down Alpizar in a hail of bullets from their 357 Sig Sauer handguns acted "within guidelines" for handling potential terrorist activities.
"He was belligerent. He threatened that he had a bomb in his backpack," claimed Brian Doyle, DHS spokesman. "The officers clearly identified themselves and yelled at him to 'get down, get down.' Instead, he made a move toward the backpack."
But Alpizar, a 44-year-old naturalized American citizen from Costa Rica, suffered from bipolar disorder and had not taken his prescription medication to control the condition. The Home Depot employee who lived in Maitland, Florida, did not have a bomb and witnesses on the scene dispute the marshals' claim that he shouted he did.
"I can tell you, he never said a thing in that airplane; he never called out he had a bomb," says fellow passenger Jorge Borelli, an Orlando architect.
"He just wanted to get off the plane," says passenger John McAlhany, sitting in the middle of the Boeing 757. McAlhany says Alpizar was "clearly agitated" but said nothing about a bomb. "I never heard the word 'bomb' until the FBI asked me: 'Did you hear the word bomb?'"
McAlhany says other federal officers stormed onto plane, pointing guns at passangers and demanding they put their hands in front of them.
"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said, 'Put your hands on the seat in front of you," McAlhany says. "I got my cell phone karate-chopped out of my hand."
The air marshals claimed Alpizar failed to get on the ground when they demanded it and instead reached into a bag he was carrying. McAlhany says the bag was a fanny pack.
"You can't get on the ground with a fanny pack," he said. "You have to move it to the side."
Another passenger says Alpizar appeared agitated but not threatening.
"The wife was telling him, 'Calm down. Let other people get on the plane. It will be all right,'" said Alan Tirpak. "I thought maybe he's afraid of flying."
Jim Bauer, special agent in charge of the air marshals' office in Miami, claims the killing was justified.
"This threat presented itself, and we believe it was necessary to use deadly force," Bauer said.
But doubts continue with those who witnessed the incident and those doubts are expressed in an internal DHS memo that may never see the light of day.
The government of Costa Rica has officially demanded an investigation and explanation of the killing of Alpizar. President Abel Pacheco said the shooting resulted from "American paranoia about terrorism."
Copyright 2005 Capitol Hill Blue