- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

The second-guessing is underway. The federal air marshals at Miami International Airport on Wednesday who killed Rigoberto Alpizar could, it seems to us, reasonably conclude that a man who wears a backpack across his chest, says he has a bomb, ignores orders to drop to the ground, attempts to reach into the bag and appears ready to flee is a definite lethal threat to everyone around him.

Air marshals are trained to neutralize threats before they kill or wound crews and passengers, and this was a case where the marshals neutralized what by reasonable judgment was a deadly threat. Specific protocol in such cases is generally not released for reasons of security. FBI spokeswoman Judy Oriheulah put it succinctly: “When something threatens passenger, crew or safety of the airplane, you take whatever steps are necessary to protect yourself. If they were telling the guy not to reach into the bag, that’s a situation that necessitates the use of deadly force.”

The death of Mr. Alpizar — a U.S. citizen from Maitland, Fla., and by neighbors’ accounts an average Joe — is a tragedy, and all the more tragic if it’s true that Mr. Alpizar was mentally disturbed and off his medications. But, based on the evidence so far, attempts to cast the shooting as an overreach by the marshals is not persuasive. A marshal who hesitates to shoot someone behaving as Mr. Alpizar did is not doing his job.

This was the first use of deadly force by the Federal Air Marshals Service since September 11. The agency, which has expanded from a few dozen officers to several thousand, has had its share of controversy, including the imposition of a dress code that identified agents. The abuse of deadly force has not been ascribed to them.

Mr. Alpizar’s death is a reminder of how seriously the marshals treat airline security. We should all take due notice.

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