Up Against the Fence, Martha

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Sunday night both Russ Niles and I got one of those e-mails that interrupt the peaceful routine of the weekend news biz: "We were held at gunpoint and handcuffed at an airport and it could happen to any pilot." The note was from John and Martha King.

By now, you will have read the details or heard Martha's detailed description in this podcast in which she generously describes the incident as an over reaction. To that, I might add that the Santa Barbara Police Department should get a special mention for lack of professionalism in law enforcement, with a tip of hat to DEA for contributing incompetence.

Why? It's not because they armed up and drew guns on what they perceived to be a felony stop, but because they apparently failed to do even a cursory background check on what they were dealing with. If they had, the entire incident might have been avoided or at least law abiding pilots wouldn't have been exposed to the very real danger of having loaded weapons trained on them for no good reason.

The problem is, what do you do about incidents like this? My view is that you hold local officials accountable—that would be mayors and police chiefs—to make sure any planned procedures in which weapons are drawn as the standard response is carefully vetted. I suspect some departments are good at this, some not so hot. Like everything else in life and aviation, it relates to cultural predisposition and training. Recall earlier this month, the LAPD pulled a similar blunder on a minivan full of vacationers. And along with quick draw procedures, there ought to be one for delivering formal apologies, too, which the Kings never got. We can support our police forces without giving them license to be or accepting that they are sometimes goons.

As pilots, we are uniquely vulnerable to this sort of thing for two reasons. Unless they fly—and not many do—cops don't get that airplanes aren't just cars with wings. Second, in the continuing hysteria after 911, airplanes are just automatically suspect as being terrorist's tools and a huge, intertwined federal security apparatus has sprung up to ensnare the unwary, whether deserved or not. And that's what happened to John and Martha King.

The larger and more troubling aspect of the federal edifice that has arisen in the wake of 911 is that it's sustained by political leaders using national security as a cudgel to obtain votes. It is thus all but impossible to unplug the funding for some of these agencies or even to expect them to at least be competent enough to maintain their databases accurately. The Kings' very airplane was subject to previous incident similar to theirs. Why? Because the feds didn't bother to cross reference and edit their data. It'll probably get stopped again.

When I covered the cop beat many years ago, I learned why cops do these things—that is, accost citizens with weapons drawn—and knowing that they're in harm's way every day in my behalf, I am tolerant of the need for force. It goes with the job.

But so does judgment. So does respect for the citizenry they are sworn to protect without the all-purpose hiding behind the badge of "my job is dangerous." Wouldn't it be encouraging to see such thinking in Santa Barbara? And also in El Paso and Washington.

TUESDAY P.M. UPDATE: Martha King just e-mailed to say the Santa Barbara police chief phoned for a chat and offered a profuse apology. That sounds reasonable to me and maybe the department will benefit from it. He further explained that the department has no procedures for stopping airplanes--no surprise--and thus reverted to what it knew: standard felony traffic stop procedures. Next time, they'll know. Unfortunately, there probably will be a next time. Here are some comments from John King.

Comments (129)

Have a guess at what happens now that the FAA is forcing re-cycling of N-Numbers every 3 years?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

I love the wisdom of a federal agency checking IFR flight plans for stolen, drug smuggling airplanes. I really don't think that even the stupidest smuggler would be stupid enough to fly a stolen airplane on a flight plan at all... because the whole point of flight plans is to alert the authorities to your exact location and precise intentions.
Also, what kind of airplane thief/smuggler goes to land at a busy class C airspace airport? Doesn't common sense dictate that smugglers would prefer a little grass strip away from prying eyes? Like, in the middle of nowhere?
The people responsible for this are, ironically, an intelligence outfit. This is not encouraging.

Posted by: Jonathan Harger | August 31, 2010 9:33 AM    Report this comment

Several friends using the web to follow IFR flight have noted repeated flights in the upper midwest using my N-number. It makes me wonder what they are doing that needs a phony ID. Think about it, at the end of an IFR flight who shows up to check that the N-number on the plane matches the flight plan or the call sign used?

Posted by: bradley Glasco | August 31, 2010 3:25 PM    Report this comment

This is such an abuse of power by the local PD, I don't even know where to begin! Completely unacceptable. When you point a gun at someone, incompetence is unforgivable. This has happened twice in my local area - once to a pilot I know personally. It's time to write our senators and representatives.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | August 31, 2010 9:42 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Harger beat me to it! However, I don't blame the officers as much as the system. I do not think this is some abuse of power in that I hope when the real thing comes about, the police will continue to act in ways that make it clear, "Do what we say and no one gets hurt!" Obviously, the Kings were compliant and the "incident" was cleared up. So let this be a lesson, if you are trying to run drugs, DON'T file a flight plan! I'm just sayin'...

Posted by: Thomas Hill | September 1, 2010 4:57 AM    Report this comment

The onus resides with the dangerously inefficient uberapparatus created in the wake of 911. Kudos to the Santa Barbara police for recognizing a problem and then seeking a fix. Well reasoned article, Mr. Bertorelli

Posted by: William Ross | September 1, 2010 4:59 AM    Report this comment

They were prepared for Bonnie and Clyde but got John and Martha.
I don't blame the Santa Barbara police as much as I blame EPIC. It is as bad a fault in an intelligence organization to put out bad information through failure to use available means of verification and to cause misdirect of resources because of it as it is to miss something that should have been reported. The police on the scene belied the intelligence received from what should be a reliable source and apparently started with every reason to believe that they were dealing with dangerous, likely armed, criminals. If EPIC had done a thorough job the police could have been somewhere else dealing with actual crime.

From the latest reports, cudos to both the Santa Barbara Police chief for accepting the need for training on handling aviation threats and the Kings for turning a bad experience into an opportunity for a new training field.

Posted by: Michael Bevan | September 1, 2010 6:08 AM    Report this comment

While I was perusing the FAA's Registry database, I noticed that the stolen 150J and the King's leased 172S, not only shared the same N50545 registration number, but according to the database, they share a Mode S Code: 51447605. What data from which database is being purged so that it doesn't happen again? Could it be that this snafu is not over yet? When the Kings return the leased aircraft, will the CEO of Cessna be arrested for "Receiving stolen property"? Probably not. But just how many IFR flights did N50545 take between the 1st incident on initial delivery in 2009 and the King's unfortunate incident? Why didn't the El Paso Intelligence Center catch all of those other flights? Could their incompetance be incompetant?

Posted by: E.F. Covill | September 1, 2010 6:10 AM    Report this comment

I DO blame the local cops (they were the ones who drew weapons at a civil aircraft and it's flight crew).
I don't blame databases, I blame PEOPLE that are entrusted with deadly weapons to exercise more brainpower. If it's come to the point that databases are MORE important than reason then something is seriously wrong.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 1, 2010 7:32 AM    Report this comment

The Mode S Code is derived from the N Number, so they should be the same.

Posted by: Paul Rau | September 1, 2010 8:13 AM    Report this comment

The only reason an apology was issued was that John & Martha are high-visibility people that are recognized in our industry and carry alot of PR clout. If it had been a regular person, I'm convinced no aplogy would have been given.

Posted by: Patrick Kelly | September 1, 2010 8:15 AM    Report this comment

Let's see now, according to the Dept. of Commerce we pay those pesky Feds an average of $120,000 a year and the Santa Barbara public "servant" police get that much or more - they could be on the same schedule as Bell,CA where they get $800,000/yr. We are really getting our money's worth, right? You just pay enough for incompetence.

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | September 1, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

It doesn't take a lot for a pistol to discharge when held by an anxious person, no matter how much training they have. One misstep or slip getting out of the plane could have made this scenario a lot worse than it was. I'm glad nothing else happened. In a way, this story may have a silver lining because the Kings will do the right thing by developing local, and hopefully nationwide protocols for police procedures in like situations. If this happened to someone else, we probably wouldn't have heard about it. This will have a happy ending, I'm sure.

Posted by: DAVID AFFINITO | September 1, 2010 9:35 AM    Report this comment

As a former Officer, you can bet it will happen again. Happened several times last year and most likely every year. A couple points, first the "common sense" statement. Aviation, as we all know is a foreign environment to 98% of the population and with that ignorance of what occurs in that world other than what is seen in movies. The other is tactical training and display of overwelming force to curtail any possibility of resistance in "perceived" high risk encounters. In this case, anyone told that this is a stolen vehicle would have acted in the similiar manner. All that said, when responsible for the oversight of airport security, I strived to have the officers well versed as to what happens at airports and all resources. Even with that, there were times when actions based on by requests from those in aviation offended others. The problem is deeper into TSA, Homeland Security, and providers of "bad intell". This is becoming more common and unacceptable. Being involved in interesting aviation encounters during the smuggling of the 70-80's with guns involved, enlightening to say the least. Those days have been replaced with overreaction from those with little to no knowledge to the aviation world. The failure to use those that are familiar with the airport for security assistance is a failure to use valuable resources. A screw-up, but this issue goes way past a tactical response to a "stolen airplane" to those intellectuals behind the scenes...

Posted by: Chuck West | September 1, 2010 10:07 AM    Report this comment

According to flightaware, this N-number has made several other recent IFR flights. I'm curious what about this particular flight signaled this response? If the fact it was an IFR flight signaled someone at EPIC, why did they do nothing on those similar earlier flights? (I'm not implying they should have, I just wonder what was so special about _this_ IFR flight?)

Posted by: Philip Rash | September 1, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

Bombarded and reminded on a daily basis and evidenced here in this blog of society's unholy marriage to victimhood and narcissism, how delightful and refreshing to see two mature, thoughtful and wonderful representatives of aviation and society handle this misunderstanding so well.

Instead of woe-is-me and 'unacceptable!' emotional patter, they are setting out to educate and help those and others who may find this same problem come up in our complex society.

Kudos to you, Martha and John, thanks for your maturity and leadership to turn this lemon into lemonade.

Posted by: David Miller | September 1, 2010 10:46 AM    Report this comment

I'm surprised the police didn't fire tazers first, then ask questions...

Posted by: Gordon Anderson | September 1, 2010 1:21 PM    Report this comment

As a private pilot, aircraft owner, AOPA member and criminal defense lawyer for 30 years I can tell you that I am not in the least bit surprised by this fiasco. Everyone involved on the law enforcement side of the equation was negligent (at the very least) and failed to exercise due diligence before acting. This could easily have become a tragedy had one of the officers felt subjectively threatened and discharged his weapon. The serious social problem here is that there is no incentive on the part of any of the governmental players to act in a non-negligent fashion because they are immune from civil liability - even in the event that one of the Kings had been killed or injured at their hands. So long as they were merely negligent they are immune from civil liability under the outdated concept of sovereign immunity. I am not an advocate of opening public coffers for negligence lawsuits against law enforcement, but there is no good reason not to allow suits against the individual actors for failure to exercise due diligence and reasonable care in the performance of the job they are paid by the taxpayers to do, and impose upon them the requirement to insure themselves (or not), just as the rest of us do in our professional lives. Frankly, the Kings should consider themselves lucky. Things for the Kings could have been very different had they been black or brown instead of white, and driving a car in Detroit instead of flying an airplane into Santa Barbara.

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 1, 2010 1:55 PM    Report this comment

It appears that these "law enforcement" goons are no different than the German SS. Clearly they have too much power.

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | September 1, 2010 2:06 PM    Report this comment

I agree with the John King; having guns aimed at your wife is disturbing to the core. Handcuffing was also completely unnecessary.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 1, 2010 2:30 PM    Report this comment

"apparently failed to do even a cursory background check"

What does Paul mean by "cursory background check"? Yes, the IFR flight plan that the King's filed, that apparently triggered the El Paso notification to Santa Barbara PD that the plane was stolen from the TexMex area, did identify the pilot but of course there's no validation of that name upon filing. The cops had no way of knowing who was in that plane. Does Paul mean that Santa Barbara PD should have started tracing FAA records to verify that that particular N-number had not been recycled since the original stolen plane report was filed? If he does, then he's asking a bit much.

"My view is that you hold local officials accountable"

Wrong. The 1st failure was El Paso reporting the plane stolen when it wasn't. That's not local. The 2nd failure was the FAA recycling the N-number of a stolen plane. That's not local.

"in the continuing hysteria after 911, airplanes are just automatically suspect as being terrorist's tools"

Wrong. The "over-reaction" in this case had nothing to do with 911. It had to do with the fact that Washington, police departments and the legacy media know that the border situation is extremely violent, out of control and political imperatives dictate that no action be taken to fix it. Ergo, when a cop is drawn to a stolen airplane from the TexMex border, he is going to protect himself in ways that don't make any sense to the general public kept ignorant by the aforementioned groups.

Posted by: FRANK NATOLI | September 1, 2010 2:54 PM    Report this comment

And don't expect the latest extortion program of aircraft re-registration to clear up any of the confusion. All that was needed for data base verification was to make the present tri-annual report positive reporting (meaning you have to return the card to confirn data)

Posted by: Al Dyer | September 1, 2010 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Certainly EPIC and the police supervision that initiated the "felony stop" were negligent in doing their due diligence concerning this incident.
I was once a pilot of a DC-6 (former USAF General’s C-118), in the summer of 1977, on a positioning flight with an empty cargo configured aircraft from TUS, PHX (to repair a disconnected throttle) to SEA. On landing we were instructed to taxi to the Customs Ramp and shut down. We told them we were a domestic flight with the last stop in PHX, but they insisted. So, we complied. I don’t know how they intended to exactly make a “felony stop on a DC-6/C-118, even if we really were drug smugglers. As I recall, we put down a ladder and they came up and saw that the cabin and all the cargo compartments were empty except for our luggage, spare parts and tools.

It is tough to climb a steep ladder up to the floor of a DC-6/C-118 with weapons drawn. As a crew we thought is was funny in a Keystone Cops kind of way. Would a drug smuggler load up with drugs in TUS, land in PHX and then in SEA? The officers that came on board seemed somewhat embarrassed and mumbled something about "appearing on the Seattle Radar". As I recall, we were flying IFR, but we may have been low enough to go off radar at times along what is a pretty mountainous route. However, in our case, as in the case of the Kings, nobody in the chain of command took the time to check.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 1, 2010 3:11 PM    Report this comment

To paraphrase one often quoted criminologist, "The citizens of a governmental unit get the law enforcement agencies they deserve." The problem here is that no one seems accountable for the accuracy and appropriate use of databases that have grown in the aftermath of 9/11. Sharing of useful information in law enforcement is very important. The promulgation of lousy information leads to lousy results.

As citizens we have a rational expectation that Law Enforcement Agencies and Personnel would respond (or in this case, if their information was accurate, not respond) in a reasonable fashion. The problem is EPIC, for not maintaining an accurate data base (who is responsible for the accuracy of the data base) and the supervision and policy makers of the SBA Police Department who accepted the inaccurate information at face value (assuming that the SBA Police Department had the institutional knowledge to check the FAA Data base to confirm the information).

We have a right to demand that our (and they are "our") Law enforcement officers act responsibly and in accordance with their training and instructions. While the tactics used by the officers may have looked like the lives of the Kings were in danger, the whole procedure is intended that no one gets hurt. The reason that the officers are trained to make stolen car (airplane?) stops in that fashion is prevent a repeat of past experiences where officers lost their lives.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 1, 2010 3:47 PM    Report this comment

I sense a new video will be added to my King library. Local law enforcement really needs to be informed of aviation matters.

Posted by: Greg Nothacker | September 1, 2010 3:51 PM    Report this comment

Paul is suggesting that Frank do a little extra reading. And listening to what Martha said in the podcast.

Commonsense would be the SBPD realizing they were holding an airplane at bay with with multiple weapons that had filed a flight plan into Santa Barabara. What aircraft thieves do this? This alone should have caused them to double check and question their intel. Instead, they drew guns. A simple check of the FAA registry would have raised more questions. Again, a basic courtesy or two to keep from drawing down on the innocents. That was their decision to make, not EPICs,

These are not unreasonable things to expect.

And if you think the size and scope of agencies like EPIC isn't fueled by 911, you're living in a different reality. I would suggest you take a read at the Washington Post's recent series on the exponential growth of domestic security agencies. The amount of money involved is staggering. No fewer than 11 security companies doing contract work for 45 federal agencies have sprung up since 911.

We might disagree on where the immediate responsibility should lie. But reasonable people should agree that the system in its totality is out of control.

And by the way, you probably didn't read this either: SBPD stepped up and said it needs better training for such incidents. You think you'd get such response from the feds? Fat chance.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 1, 2010 5:18 PM    Report this comment

It is most unfortunate that this had to happen to such nice people as the Kings. A Cessna factory pilot had the same thing happen to him in the same aircraft and nothing was fixed. He had no clout to get anything fixed. But the Kings do. This has already gotten the attention of those who can fix things.
Although the Santa Barbra police could greatly improve their procedures, they are not the real culprits here. Our border with Mexico has gotten so dangerous that I certainly wouldn’t want to be a law enforcement officer in that area.
EPIC could have better researched before they acted, especially after the prior incident with the same aircraft. Well, there is an old joke; the federal government is an equal opportunity employer, they don’t discriminate on race, religion, national origin or ability. We have to live with it. Their Civil Service, they don’t get fired.
But the real culprit is our good friends at the FAA. Re-using a “N” number of a stolen aircraft, that is a felony incident, remember, makes someone with a room temperature IQ look like Albert Einstein. Lets remember that once something is put on a computer, IT NEVER COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS ! And EPIC got its data via a computer connection. N50545 should have been a dead number forevermore. There are not that many stolen aircraft, and we are not that short of “N” numbers. There is no excuse for the genius at the FAA that thought doing this was O.K.

Posted by: Vernon Vanderhule | September 1, 2010 5:20 PM    Report this comment

completely unacceptable behavior by the Santa Barbara police, no exscuses a C-172 on the ramp is not a threat to the Nation's security and does not need guns drawn and aimed at innocent folks.

Posted by: paul schuyler | September 1, 2010 6:08 PM    Report this comment

Now that's how John and Martha turn lemons into lemonade: "Kings To Help Develop Police Aviation Training" and soon available on DVD and for the iPhone to police departments everywhere. The smart, safe, and fun way to perform a felony traffic stop on a civilian aircraft. Starring, John and Martha King with a cameo appearance by the Santa Barbara Police Department. Learn how to look up the name, address, phone number, route of flight, destination, and time of arrival for any fugitive who dares to lead you on an IFR police chase using their stolen aircraft. View demonstrations on how to disable a small airplane using a Taser. Never get embarrassed looking for the aircraft data plate again. Get a first hand look inside EPIC, and see an exclusive interview with EPIC secret agent code- named "Chicken Little." (Identity disguised to protect the guilty) If your not completely satisfied with the course, return it within 30 days for a prompt, friendly refund.

Posted by: Jim Perkins | September 1, 2010 7:09 PM    Report this comment

"What aircraft thieves do this?"
Presuming perfectly rational behavior from aircraft thieves or narcotics traffickers doesn't strike me as a healthy attitude for a cop to have.
"double check and question their intel"
If that meant call EPIC and reconfirm, OK. If that meant ignore EPIC and DIY what is the legal and procedural responsibility of EPIC to perform, then NO.
"Instead, they drew guns"
Exactly what training and simulations have you undertaken that contradicts Santa Barbara tactical policy? Did I miss the ground school class on felony stops?
"if you think the size and scope of agencies like EPIC isn't fueled by 911, you're living in a different reality"
Gratuitous insult every other paragraph? I wrote that the police tactics were not 911 driven.

Posted by: FRANK NATOLI | September 1, 2010 7:13 PM    Report this comment

What a tremendous business promotion for the Kings--even the start of a new product line "to consult the police".How come somebody "just happened" to be available to take pictures when Martha was led avay in handcuffs??--just asking. May be a Kings contribution to the police pension fund would be appropriate as a "thank you".

Posted by: Snorre Sturlason | September 1, 2010 8:57 PM    Report this comment

If that meant call EPIC and reconfirm, OK.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 2, 2010 5:27 AM    Report this comment

At least John and Martha King have a picture for their Christmas card this year.

Posted by: Bill Hayes | September 2, 2010 5:47 AM    Report this comment

I think this is a serious issue and it needs to get fixed. However, only John and Martha could turn an "arrest" into a marketing opportunity! You have to admire them for that.

Posted by: Jim Cistone | September 2, 2010 6:24 AM    Report this comment

If this incident happened to anyone other than the Kings it would not have gone as well. This is just another example of how our over bearing, ill managed and incompetent government is incapable of doing even the most elementary record keeping. One has to wonder what will happen when they foul up re-registration.

Posted by: Vin Soares | September 2, 2010 6:51 AM    Report this comment

Wake up people, it's only going to get worse. Around October you can expect the TSA's LASP II (Large Aircraft Security Program) to come out and curtain as much GA flying as possible...

As posted on www.stoplasp.com:

By EILEEN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press Writer – 3 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Two men arrested in Amsterdam may have been conducting a dry run for a potential terrorist attack, U.S. officials said Tuesday after a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle and a knife and box cutters were found in one of the men’s luggage.

On Sunday, authorities found the suspicious items — a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, multiple cell phones and watches taped together, and a knife and box cutter — in one of the men’s checked luggage in Virginia. The man and his luggage were headed to separate international destinations, which also raised concerns.

So let me get this straight, two guys named Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezam al Murisi can carry Pepto-Bismol bottles taped to cell phones (yeah, I carry my cell phone like that all the time) and get detained AFTER they’ve left the US by Dutch officials with holstered weapons…

Yet two American citizens named John and Martha King, flying an airplane legally registered with a legal N-number issued by the FAA get met with drawn weapons, cuffed and put in a police car for a half an hour. And when the mistake is learned, well, cops don’t apologize.

Posted by: John Hyle | September 2, 2010 7:00 AM    Report this comment

Frank Natoli said: "a cop is drawn to a stolen airplane from the TexMex border, he is going to protect himself in ways that don't make any sense"

WRONG. This was a C150. Anyone with a brain cell knows that serious drug smugglers are not stealing C150's. That's why this is so laughable to even the general public. Just WHAT is the PAYLOAD on a C150 when you file IFR with 2 souls on board? Lets get real for a moment.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 2, 2010 7:08 AM    Report this comment

And you were worried about a ramp check.

Posted by: Scott Rodriguez | September 2, 2010 7:30 AM    Report this comment

Kudos to the Kings for taking this in stride and turning it into something positive. They are classy people. BTW, the SBPD chief did apologize, which was absolutely the right thing to do, even if just for PR reasons. The problem as I see it is systemic. Gov't agencies don't communicate well. I'm guessing if there was better coordination, this would never have happened. Enough blame to go around here.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 2, 2010 8:00 AM    Report this comment

Human error will always occur when humans are involved. These officers responded as any would in a stolen vehicle situation. Just because it is an airplane,does not make it a special deal. Stolen vehicle=stolen vehicle. The ball was dropped somewhere regarding the aircraft registration process. Thankfully this situation ended well and it appears the department is looking into revising procedures. Now the government should do the same. And I agree kudos to the Kings and SBPD Chief for handling this with class and turning it into a positive

Posted by: Craig Smith | September 2, 2010 8:26 AM    Report this comment

We get the govt we vote for.

Posted by: Edward Jeffko | September 2, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

I really can't fault the police for approaching the airplane with guns drawn; officers get killed every year just walking up to the drivers window on a traffic stop and this flight originated in an area known for drug gang violence. That said, when they saw John & Martha get out they should have immediately realized they had made a mistake. That the Kings were handcuffed is inexcusable.

Posted by: PHIL DERUITER | September 2, 2010 9:22 AM    Report this comment

All "intel" was that it was a C150 on a 2 hour IFR flight with 2 on board.

It really pegs the stupid-o-meter when the entire system overlooks the OBVIOUS and goes into full attack mode.

Question of the day:
Just how many drug kingpins steal C150's to make deliveries?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 2, 2010 9:46 AM    Report this comment

Phillip, you're assuming the cops would even know who the Kings are. Not being pilots, they obviously didn't. Mark, for the same reason, the cops didn't know a 150 from a 172. They're just on the enforcement end of the chain. The fix needs to happen at the top.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 2, 2010 11:07 AM    Report this comment

Americans,rise up! Yours has become a semi-police state with a lot of acronyms (EPIC,DHS etc.) which remind me terribly of GESTAPO.I learned to fly in Colorado and N.Y. and I don't recognize your country anymore,once the beacon of freedom.Holding John and Martha King at gunpoint is totally disgraceful and what's more disgraceful is that I read that sofar Homeland Security has failed to issue an explanation,let alone an apology.
I know I am stirring controversy but too bad:I fled Italy in the Seventies for the US because I thought mine was a dangerous country and the US was a safe heaven.
Now I believe it's the other way around.


Lupo Rattazzi
(FAA Private,Multi and Instrument)

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 2, 2010 12:24 PM    Report this comment

Hey, we've got several manned Long Beach Police (2 minimum) and TSA vehicles (don't know how many) at KLGB on continuous duty, as near as I can tell. Job must be boring as hell day-to-day. I'm pretty sure that if they got a call that asked them to do something, they'd be on that like flies on sh*t.

Oh, wait, didn't they do that last year to two aircraft?

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 2, 2010 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Time to wake up America! The land of the Free is being turned into a police state! Benjamin Franklin got it right when he said:
"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"

Posted by: Joerg Stieber | September 2, 2010 1:11 PM    Report this comment

That's pretty true. I doubt if even communist countries take such measures on internal domestic flights by its citizens.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 2, 2010 3:03 PM    Report this comment

What did we expect the police and governmental agencies would morph into when a lot of years ago they began their tactical training with jack boots, camo gear, and worst of ...attitudes that the civilians were all crooks and bad guys. I remember a time in this country when the police were friendly and knew that you could draw more flies with sugar than you could with vinegar. Every year at out little airport in eastern Oklahoma we are descended upon by every law enforcement you can think of with CAP planes and Guard helicopters making daily sweeps of local fields for marijuana plants. They tend to come up with what the locals call Ditch Weed, but it looks good in the local paper and gives everyone a sense of contentment.

Th King fiasco sounds like a government running amuck and answering to nobody.

Posted by: Everett Childers | September 2, 2010 5:40 PM    Report this comment

When I graduated from gun safety class, I had learned that one never points a gun in a direction one does not intend to shoot. One could reasonably expect professional police to know at least as much about gun safety as I do. Therefore, I can only conclude that the SBPD really intended to shoot John and Martha, and didn’t only because they were so astonished that John and Martha never flinched, like most ordinary people would have.

Boo Hoo the paranoid cops in our midst who feel that the potential danger justifies assault and battery on hapless subjects. The PD could have had their guns at the ready, without ever pointing them in an unsafe direction.

I’m fed up with the notion that a law officer’s life is worth more than an innocent citizen’s life. Says who?

John, Martha, and Paul are all absolutely correct. The police desperately need some rudimentary training, and it if takes burdening police with personal liability to force that to occur, then my heart bleeds purple peanut butter for those who resent that their law-enforcement jobs have taken on a sliver of accountability.

Lastly, if this were a free market, EPIC would be out of business for its newly-exposed utter and complete lack of credibility.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 2, 2010 8:27 PM    Report this comment

I believe most people in this blog live in a fantasy world. I can't see how this should be treated any different to the police stopping a car. Mistakes happen even with license plates. These officers were just doing their jobs and from all accounts they did it well, and I don't believe John and Martha King should be teaching officers on tactical maneuvers. I'm guessing the only reason the SBPD are accepting their offer for the training video is to appease them. If you get stopped either in your car or airplane just do as the officers ask and in most likelihood you will walk away unhurt, if your ego is hurt so be it. Martha King says, they don't look like airplane thieves. What do airplane thieves look like? The one solution I see to this situation is to not reissue N numbers from stolen aircraft. And Martha, leave police training to the experts. Your take on what they should do is probably not wanted or helpful.

Posted by: Bret Viets | September 3, 2010 7:15 AM    Report this comment

Makes me wonder. In a situation like this, is it standard procedure to put sights on target, with safety off and finger inside the guard?

Or do they have another procedure to buffer against accidental or nervous discharge?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 3, 2010 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Paul, any officer that has a safety on isn't going to be around very long. Their procedure to buffer against accidental or nervous discharge is hours and hours of training. If this had happened to me, you probably would not be reading about it as I would have taken it in stride, thanked the officers for being there, borrowed the FBO's crew car, and go eat that $100.00 hamburger.

Posted by: Bret Viets | September 3, 2010 7:47 AM    Report this comment

:Bret Viets :I can't see how this should be treated any different to the police stopping a car.:

Because these morons responded like they were storming a C-130 instead of the reported C-150. Sending a small army to storm a C-150 is ludicrous.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 3, 2010 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Good question Paul. Maybe the pilots in San Bernardino should consider wearing Second Chance vests as a precaution? j/k

Bret, I wonder if you'd feel any differently if you'd been the one the cops drew down on and had your face planted on the tarmac? From what I've read, the Kings arent't planning on teaching "tactical maneuvers" to the SBPD, they're just going to get them up to speed on their fact checking to (hopefully) prevent this from happening again.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 3, 2010 7:58 AM    Report this comment

All I see here is bunch of COP bashing. Most of you seem to hate cops until you need them. As far as how I would feel if they drew down on me and planted my face on the tarmac read my whole post to Paul. Now John King is wanting to start a Congressional Inquiry maybe is thinks "King" is his position and not his last name.

Posted by: Bret Viets | September 3, 2010 8:08 AM    Report this comment

It's a public forum. You'll get different opinions, like them or not. As I posted earlier, the police are at the enforcement end, and the real problem lies further up the chain. The SBPD was just doing their job, I have no issue with that.

I hadn't read about any congressional inquiry (seems a bit extreme on the face of it) but if that's what it takes to effect change and fix a busted system, then I'm all for it.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 3, 2010 8:23 AM    Report this comment

Actually, except for the inevitable political grandstanding, a congressional investigation is a good idea, not of this incident itself but the upstream intel and security apparatus that initiated it.

We in this country tend to believe that the proliferation of security and police agencies will never mean that we reach a Stasi-like state the East Germans perfected, all in the name of preventing terrorism.

While that may be highly unlikely in the U.S., it's not impossible either if too many of us believe that pushing back against excess is "cop bashing." The human tendency is attempt more control over fellow humans, not less, thus we are no different than the East Germans were if we roll over on every new intrusion into personal rights.

It's a question of getting the balance just right and discussions like this one seek to do that. For now, we can still have them.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 3, 2010 8:42 AM    Report this comment

"All I see here is bunch of COP bashing."

When the cops make a huge blunder, it is not cause for accolades. When the cops make a huge blunder with deadly force then they deserve a congressional inquiry.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 3, 2010 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Just as important as how the SBPD handled the incident is why this N number was flagged on this particular flight. Why wasn't it flagged on numerous IFR flights since the previous incident in 2009 when the plane was first flown by the Cessna.

Has anyone tried to contact EPIC and ask them this? They were the ones that provided indirectly the SBPD with the alert that this was a stolen aircraft.

It doesn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that we rely on a bunch tax payer funded intellignece agencies that perform their jobs so inconsistnly. This is what any congressional investigation should concentrate on, not how a relatively small city police agency handled it.

Posted by: GREGORY WROCLAWSKI | September 3, 2010 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I read that calls going back & forth between EPIC, the local police dept in TX and Cessna uncovered the tail number as having been reassigned to a new airplane. By the time they got wise the Kings were already in custody. So, it seems somebody did figure it all out, but the fact-checking just didn't happen fast enough to affect the situation.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 3, 2010 9:46 AM    Report this comment

You're in a minority here, Mr. Viets. Too much unemotional common sense, and perhaps clear-eyed awareness to the sensitivity and brutality of our border war. I live in a border state and what these cops go through every day these posters of fear and anger would not understand. That's the intent, isn't it, to use doom, fear and anger to blind us to reality. The reality is that the cops and Kings had a safe, intense and properly executed encounter, apology given later by cops - even tho it was not their fault directly, but a system error on the feds - and now the pilot elites are afraid of 'Stasi-like East Germany', calling cops fools and other disgusting epithets. That is, of course, until the day comes when a random bullet from an ak-47 flying out the passenger window of a stolen airplane into the airport cafe changes their lives utterly, all because the cops stood down after seeing the female wig and polo shirt the male passenger was wearing.

Posted by: David Miller | September 3, 2010 1:06 PM    Report this comment

A flight of a Cessna 172 on an IFR plan from San Diego to Santa Barbara likely to end in a shootout at the airport cafe,with AK-47's,no less.....Interesting....Are you sure you haven't watched too many times the movie "A few good men", with Jack Nicholson as the Marine colonel justifying repeatedly his unorthodox methods with the fact that he is constantly facing "thousands of Cuban AK-47's"?.
From over here it seems to me that too much latitude is allowed to certain law enforcement agencies,considering their level of training and knowledge.It is pretty scary if you cannot discriminate between the type of arrest environment represented by a typical California highway and that of a controlled airport,presumably very well fenced.

Lupo Rattazzi,Rome,Italy

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 3, 2010 1:37 PM    Report this comment

A flight of a Cessna 172 on an IFR plan from San Diego to Santa Barbara likely to end in a shootout at the airport cafe,with AK-47's,no less.....Interesting....Are you sure you haven't watched too many times the movie "A few good men", with Jack Nicholson as the Marine colonel justifying repeatedly his unorthodox methods with the fact that he is constantly facing "thousands of Cuban AK-47's"?.
From over here it seems to me that too much latitude is allowed to certain law enforcement agencies,considering their level of training and knowledge.It is pretty scary if you cannot discriminate between the type of arrest environment represented by a typical California highway and that of a controlled airport,presumably very well fenced.

Lupo Rattazzi,Rome,Italy

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 3, 2010 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Happily, I missed a chance to see Cruise overact in the suggested movie. But I have seen so many encounters with drug cartels and cops that no fence or flight plan would even come close to interrupting. But maybe you will be happy to hear that the added border security guards being deployed to my US state soon will be stationed unarmed. Hope that helps alleviate your fears of runamuck cops a bit.

Posted by: David Miller | September 3, 2010 4:02 PM    Report this comment

While well-deserved attention is being paid to the Kings and their unwarranted arrest, what does all this say about real threats? If the "intelligence" agencies are this incompetent, how are they going to find and stop actual bad guys?
And yes, there is simply no excuse for the guns drawn deal. Does common sense not count any more? When was the last time someone looking like Martha King came out of a single engine Cessna and attacked -- who? The police were the only "bad guys" around. They should be embarrassed. The Martha picture is Jon Stewart material.

Posted by: RODMAN PAUL | September 3, 2010 4:03 PM    Report this comment

Although I can appreciate the tense situation and uneasiness that John & Martha must have felt, the reality is we are living in a Post 9/11 world and taking chances with potentially stolen aircraft should NOT take place. As a former policeman and long-time air traffic controller, the actions by the police department and tower personnel were certainly in-line with a reported stolen aircraft. Yes, the database issue should be investigated and fixed (the real culprit here), but the actions taken "real-time" were both prudent and necessary based on Martha's description of the events. To say that things should have ratcheted down once they saw who climbed out of the plane because "they don't look like your typical terrorist" is naive at best. BTW...what DOES a typical terrorist look like? Perhaps they look like the 15-year old student pilot who stole an aircraft in 2002 and slammed it into an office building with a note stating he supported Osama Bin Laden. The point is, decry the "system" of checks and balances if you like, but ATC and the local police acted prudently considering all things. Besides...they were only delayed about 30-minutes. And now there's a new term for the "defense" lawyers...."Cessna Chasers".

Posted by: William Crow | September 3, 2010 6:31 PM    Report this comment

Story to run in AVweb: FYI

Warning: Suspicious Activity May Include Yours
A flyer left by the DHS in an FBO at Hickory Regional Airport in North Carolina makes bullet points of suspicious behavior associated with illegal activities but ensnares some behavior pilots might consider routine. The flyer was left at the FBO about two weeks ago by federal agents and lists suspicious activities that include customers who: insist on paying in cash; are vague about their itinerary; fly in with a dirty undercarriage; use self-service fueling early in the morning or late at night; seek temporary hangarage for their aircraft; fly a "worn out" plane with a "very nice" GPS; or travel with "excessive" luggage. The posting listed special agents to contact "if you encounter such suspicious activity." It also offered a reward of "up to $250,000" for information "relating to the transportation or storage of contraband and/or criminal proceeds." The list did also include some activities that might be considered suspicious by a larger group of pilots.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 3, 2010 7:03 PM    Report this comment

Among the more egregious bullet items were: altered "N" numbers" and guards posted around an aircraft. AVweb contacted the FBO at Hickory and was told that the stack of flyers left by agents had since been moved, picked up by pilots, or otherwise taken away. The airport averaged about 111 operations per day for the 12-month period ending July 31, 2009, according to AirNav.com, and about 70 percent of those operations are transient GA. DHS says organized criminal groups operating in the state are using airports and aircraft to facilitate their illegal activities. Hickory Regional maintains a local aircraft population of about 70 aircraft and, according to the FBO, most of the pilots who keep their aircraft there are familiar with one another.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 3, 2010 7:03 PM    Report this comment

This was a case of total lack of common sence on the part of the police. In the fifteen minutes that they had in notice, the make and model of aircraft could have been verified. A simple check with the tower would have shown that this was not the wanted aircraft. Futher, with the number of officers present, there was no reason to point firearms directly at the Kings. There was no reason to handcuff them either. They could have been placed in the back seat of a vehicle equiped with a cage with one door open but guarded by a couple of officers. (The back doors of police cars can be opened only from the outside.) A bit of common sence would have dictated this. The control of most people can be accomplished without the "rambo" approach. Knowing when maximum force is indicated should be within the knowledge of a supervisor. A supervising police officer that does not understand this has no business being a supervisor. This is from a man that retired with over forty years of police experience

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 4, 2010 3:07 PM    Report this comment

Dear Mssrs. Viets & Miller, in my opinion the due diligence that should have been but was not performed by SBPD in this case included verification that they were in fact speaking with another law enforcement agency, verifying the information they rec'd (tail # + aircraft type) against current registration (the equivalent of calling dispatch to check auto registration)and running the designated pilot's name through NCIC or LEADS for criminal background. All of this could have been done within the 15 minutes or so it took the responders to drive to the airport. The reason it was not done was because the police are immune from liability and thus unmotivated to act non-negligently. Part of the psyche is since they can't held liable, it is not required that they act in a non-negligent manner which, after many years, becomes "its not negligent because I don't have to do it" (the "to avoid liability " part is forgotten.) Please explain why they should not have done these things and why they should not be personally liable for negligence like the rest of our non-government employed citizenry?

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 5, 2010 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Dear Mr. Reinhart, your 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' post assumes, or since you are a defense lawyer and I am not, intends to show there was negligence with the cops verifying the aircraft. Coulda been, and shoulda been better, so woulda been a different outcome. My earlier comment was that the important blame was for the system setup and process, which you can bet will now at least have a brighter light shown upon it, with help from the Kings. But to me it appeared the cops simply didn't know at the time, due to whatever or whomever failed in verification, so despite your obviously cynical viewpoint that cops are always immune to scrutiny, to me they simply behaved properly with the intel they had at the time.

My field is in counseling and crisis, loss and bereavement mostly. I claim no interest whatsoever in how well or badly huge complex systems operate, only how well individuals behave. And in this case, to me, I found a solid, refreshing maturity in the Kings as well as the cops involved instead of our ubiquitous, trendy, societal whine and fingerpointing we usually observe. So I guess I can't answer your question on your observation of negligence, that's up to you to prove. But the bigger these automated systems get, the more problems we are going to see, in my opinion.

Posted by: David Miller | September 5, 2010 12:13 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Miller, Mr. Reinhart is entirely correct. Since the notification came from another Police agency by public service, the description including make, model and year of manufacture, of the stolen aircraft should have been verified. A simple call to the tower would have shown that the landing aircraft was not the one they were looking for. The entire incident could and should have been avoided. This is just good police procedure. If this had been a stolen vehicle, the officers would have asked for not only the LP number but make, model and color. It seems that NO ONE made any effort to get a description of the real stolen aircraft except for the tail number. Poor work on all involved, be it Fed or local.

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 5, 2010 12:39 PM    Report this comment

I think the 'take-away' from the event is the incompetence of our national intelligence gathering operations.

This airplane has made multiple flights on flight plans and it was only flagged twice? We're spending $$ billions amongst multiple new agencies, many newly formed private contractors, and this is what we get?

How much other stuff out there is mucked up?

How many stolen airplanes have ever been recovered?

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 5, 2010 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Miller, Mr. Reinhart was completely wrong on one thing. Police are definitely NOT immune from liability. In fact they are about the most critized group of people that there are and suffer from civil rights violation investigations more than anyone else. By far, most of it is from people that just want to bash them even though the police were right and they have no real reason to do so. A small part of it is the result of poor procedure. This was a case of the latter.

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 5, 2010 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Well that does wonders for my self-esteem, Mr.Buzbee, if Mr. Reinhart is entirely correct. Thanks alot. (but I just read you threw me a bone on police liability, muchas gracias). But I do want to thank you for proving my point, nonetheless. Here we have, again, in my opinion, an event where no one was injured or worse, the aircraft is not lost and will fly again, King's will undoubtedly increase their profit margin and may even write a book, new scrutiny should, hopefully be given to the monsterous verification process, and pilots across the land will be more aware of this potential happening to them. A new day dawned with the threat of storms, but they quickly passed and the day is CAVU.

Let's enjoy the holiday.

Posted by: David Miller | September 5, 2010 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Mr Miller, my intent was not to be as critical as I have been. I'm just an old woreout retired police officer with more than forty years experience. It bothers me greatly to read of an agency that makes such glaring errors. It degrades the profession that I so much enjoyed. Yes, there was not any physical harm caused, just mental. Think of yourself being extracted from your aircraft at gun point and held locked in a vehicle with your hands cuffed behind you for thirty minutes because people had their heads inserted where the sun doesn't shine. This was a complete cluster that could have been prevented by any of the agencies involved just by using a little common sense.

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 5, 2010 1:50 PM    Report this comment

There is not a single state that allows police liability for negligence. The same is true in the federal system. Take a look at the Eleventh Amendment, adopted after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793). In order to establish liability on the part of state police or other law enforcement one must establish that there was intentional misconduct, reckless misconduct, or willful and wanton disregard for a known risk of harm. Although there is some variation from state to state, as far as I am aware simple negligence is not actionable. This has the perverse consequence of encouraging the protected group to do less instead of more. I do not know whether it is true that that "the police are the most criticized group" or not. I would think that would be attorneys or politicians, but assuming they are allow me to pose this question; who else in society ought to be more criticized and scrutinized than the police? Who else do we clothe, pay and arm to live among us? A politician may raise your taxes, but you will live to complain about it. The question that should be subject to debate is what the social consequences are for making these government employees responsible for the negligent conduct. I am not in favor of opening the public coffers. This is not taxpayer misconduct. I am suggesting that personal responsibility be the rule for the police as it is for the ordinary citizen and this, apparently, is a controversial opinion.

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 5, 2010 2:01 PM    Report this comment

>>simple negligence not actionable

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 5, 2010 2:24 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Reinhart, just let an officer turn a drunk driver loose because he is very close to home but he runs over someone before he gets there and see how many lawyers show up to sue the officer. However, since that is not what this is all about, my remark is, WHATEVER you want to think. It's moot.

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 5, 2010 3:54 PM    Report this comment

All of us here have the advantage of being "Arm chair quarterbacks." None of us were there or aware of all the details of what was and wasn't done.

The important thing is the police did their job as they were trained and nobody got hurt. Could things have been done better? Perhaps, but we don't know the actual circumstances present at the timewhere.

The police were responding to a reported felony amd treated the situation accordingly. The fact that it was two innocent people doesn't change that. They had to act on what was known to them at the time. A "show of force" is used as much for the protection of the suspect as it is for the police. People who know they have little chance of escape are less likely to attempt escape.

Should responding officers verified the validity of the information while responding? Perhaps, but WHO should have done that? Do we want the responding officers trying to type on their MDTs on the way to the airport? Dispatch should be handling that, but how busy were they with higher priority calls? We don't know. They may very well have been doing it, but it takes time for that response too. It's likely NOT all done by computer.


Posted by: Gary Counihan | September 5, 2010 4:30 PM    Report this comment


Should the police have known it was an invalid hit because it was on the wrong type airplane? We have to assume the police are familiar with all makes and models of airplanes--they generally are not. Even if they do realize it's on the wrong model, that's not a reason to drop all caution. Is the CORRECT airplane a 150, as stated in the hit, or a 172, incorrectly listed on the hit as a 150? These answers were not available at the time of the stop.

To approach with a friendly unguarded manner will work 99% of the time. Problem is that most officers make more than 99 stops in a lifetime and that's where things can get ugly!! People get hurt then and it's not always just the officer.

In summary, did police do the right thing? Yes. Did the Kings do the right thing? Yes. Could things have been handled better? Yes. The problem was not with the Kings OR the police. The breakdown was in the middle of the chain. Let's all learn from this and move on.

Posted by: Gary Counihan | September 5, 2010 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Why could the officers not have gone to the airport, kept the suspect and aircraft under surveillance and awaited confirmation? What compelling social reason was there to to draw down on the suspects and make the "felony stop" prior to confirming the information? Is this not just common sense, regardless of the date, Monday morning or Friday night?

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 5, 2010 5:01 PM    Report this comment

Enlightened police can and do recognize when their 'intelligence' is full of ca-ca and adjust their actions accordingly. Real life example from a few decades ago:
Two hippie friends of mine were driving a disheveled heapmo (I think it had been painted with a roller) through Allentown, PA one night. Thanks to unforgivable stupidity by the New Hampshire DMV, the car's New Hampshire license plate was listed as stolen. My friends matched, superficially, the physical description of cop killers from New Jersey.
So there they are, driving through Allentown, and WHAM! Before they could blink, they were surrounded by cop cars, lights blaring, "Keep your hands where we can see them," and so on.
Next morning, when one of them was telling me this story, he said, "Given who they thought we were, they treated us very well." He thought the incident was dramatic, but he wasn't too upset by it He was never cuffed, and he wasn't detained unreasonably.
I've always thought that was a shining example of police behavior. The police displayed enough force to overwhelm a guilty perp, and deported themselves so that they didn't traumatize innocent citizens. I think a key part of this was when they woke up and saw they had obviously innocent people, they changed behavior quickly.
There will always be database errors. I don't excuse them, but I agree with those who say police should expect errors and behave accordingly, as the Allentown police did in this incident.

Posted by: John Schubert | September 5, 2010 5:36 PM    Report this comment

All I can say is that if this happened to me with my wife and son in the airplane I'd be a little more than ticked when it was all over. Glad no one was hurt - and it's time for some cops to get some unpaid leave and re-training.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 5, 2010 7:40 PM    Report this comment

Assuming the families of the SB police involved to be of equal value to the families of pilot posters here, and since no one was harmed as a result of their police training and professionalism, and that they quickly gave a sincere apology for the incident, I hope they get extra pay and time off to be with their families to regroup after running into the buzz saw of judgement from the wonderful world of Aviators. Only seems fair. Then they'll be rested to learn the new procedures provided by the Kings for stolen aircraft they didn't have before the incident.

Posted by: David Miller | September 6, 2010 2:27 AM    Report this comment

Nothing disrespectful meant to you Dave, but I totally disagree with your position. When the guns come out - you'd better have a very good reason - and I don't think the police did in this case.
Personally, I've met two kinds of officers. The first are the cautious, respectful type that give a citizen the benefit of the doubt. Public servants of the finest caliber.
The second are very aggressive, arrogant types who treat the public like second class citizens and have let their power go to their head.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 6, 2010 8:01 AM    Report this comment

This could have turned out soooo badly! Ironically, it was a good thing it was the King's. I'm sure John and Martha's background had them more prepared than the average person to deal with this most stressful situation, act appropriately, and not get shot!!! A "hothead" pilot/passenger or an extremely nervous or clumsy person could have triggered a tragic and possibly fatal response from the police.

Posted by: JOHN AUSTIN | September 6, 2010 8:23 AM    Report this comment

Wow Dave: so we should rejoice ,because "as a result of their police training and professionalism" nobody was harmed.Which implies that you think that as long as it is done by somebody "professional" and properly trained, it is perfectly alright to have a gun stuck to your face for futile reasons and without the proper verification and without the proper consideration for the premises which ,I repeat,are markedly different from a California highway.
If I were you guys,and I assume you are all AOPA members,I would have the President of that organization raise absolute hell with the Feds and accept nothing but the fullest official apology from EPIC or whoever they are accountable to.
Hey guys,I am a foreign citizen proudly holding FAA licenses and ratings:Should I be scared to rent an aircraft and fly in the US again ? It used to be a breeze, but now with e-APIS,EPIC,DHS,INS,restrictions to foreigners attending US schools (thanks to you know who) police allowed to treat you like a bank robber, sounds like it' easier in Cuba.Was it right to let 19 fanatics from Egypt and Saudi Arabia change the way things were in what was the freest general aviation country in the world? Or is this also the consequence of the war on drugs,which I can't perceive from over here?

Lupo Rattazzi,Rome,Italy

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 6, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

In an an exercise driven by curiosity, I searched the FAA data base for the subject N number and found that it had been re-issued to a relatively new C-172 and no longer applied to the former C-150. It took me 15 seconds from the time I opened my browser. This information would have been a tip-off to the Santa Barbara Police that something was wrong with the call from the Feds if the police had known and thought to do this.

I think both the Feds and the Police department are at fault here. The Feds for creating and (not) maintaining a faulty database and the police for their ignorance of aircraft. If they are going to deal with aircraft then they should know a bit about them before they draw their guns on pilots who had not done anything wrong and were flying an aircraft that was not stolen. We expect police officers to know the difference between a sedan and a pickup or between a Ford and a Chevy. If they are going to deal with aircraft then they should be able to tell one from the other and know how to find databases that will provide a cross-check on information they are given.

We can hope that this incident will lead to improved procedures, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Posted by: Brent Dalrymple | September 6, 2010 9:11 AM    Report this comment

There might well be those who adore the use of overwhelming force but all too often it is ridiculous. To have multiple weapons pointed at CITIZENS who are supposedly innocent until proven guilty is dangerous in the extreme (Go figure the chances of weapons being fired when there are so many)...and what was the rational for pointing guns at some woman who with her husband was evidently cooperating in the first place?
We see this all the time. Someone gets out of a car or is approached on the street by law enforcement personnel who proceed to mash them into the pavement...and even when they are handcuffed they can still be pressed upon and leaned upon while face down in the street...as though there is a desire to really hurt people.
This is nuts!
I spent a lifetime in law enforcement and sometimes I am ashamed to admit it ...as when I see this sort of thing. It seems to be a "gangbusters" attitude all the way...right down to the pavement in many cases.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 6, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Many great, many not-so-great points here. An IFR flight plan as I understand it does not convey the pilot's name...just N number and basic info. I think the Kings should be glad they weren't wrongly apprehended in Texas. Santa Barbara police should do much more than apologize. That El Paso company should be put out of business. N numbers should NOT be reassigned from stolen aircraft, no matter what.
As someone said, what smuggler is going to use a 150, file a flight plan to a busy airport? Those feds think smugglers are as dumb as they are. I am so grateful that John and Martha weren't physically injured; I've known them since they had one tiny booth in an old exhibit hangar at OSH. Great People!

Posted by: Anna Osborn | September 6, 2010 11:21 AM    Report this comment

To Charles Elliot Amen. If you will scroll up a few posts, you will see that we have the same opinion about a subject that we both know very well. Seems like everyone wants to be a swat team now. Additional training is not what is needed. A large injection of common sense between the ears might help.

Posted by: Chuck Buzbee | September 6, 2010 12:49 PM    Report this comment

They used the radio to get them to a secured area so why the bullhorn and not the radio? It may have reduced confusion and stress before they exited the plane. Sounds like there's a great training CD coming from John and Martha.

Posted by: Daniel Hughes | September 6, 2010 1:13 PM    Report this comment

Lt. Paul McCaffrey of the SBPD states in his podcast discussing this incident that nothing was done wrong and that the same thing may and probably will happen again, and that nothing is wrong with the system (except possibly on the federal level). I disagree. He makes one valid point however. The Supreme Court has an officer's actions are to be judged based upon what he or she knew before the criticized action, not after. What the good Lt. left out or did not know was that such statements are made in the context of civil rights litigation where a plaintiff's lawsuit is dismissed due to the officer's immunity from suit. In each such case, the actions were clearly negligent, but no liability is found for the harms done. As I have previous stated, negligence immunity has the perverse consequence of encouraging doing nothing-promoting a lack of due diligence.

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 6, 2010 1:51 PM    Report this comment

Lt. McCaffrey also correctly points out that officers must show force in order to "take command of the situation" and thus ensure the safety of all involved. Where I differ with the Lt. is that I believe that the duty of the officers to ensure safety begins prior to them creating the "situation" in the first place. There was no reason for the officers' precipitous actions in this case. Much has been made by the SBPD apologists of the "15 minute' window police had in this case. This need for immediate action, however, is suspect. Police had contacted the tower at Santa Barbara and they knew or should have known that this aircraft was full stop. If they suspected drug activity, SOP would have been to engage in surveillance and identify the conspirators on the ground. If all they suspected was a stolen aircraft, then there was even less reason to do what they did. Diverting the aircraft from the FBO alerted the occupants of their presence while they were on the strip with the prop spinning, and real criminals could have eluded detention by the simple expedient of taking off and flying away. The motivation for this incident was the adrenal rush of "the collar" - in this case with the media present and taking pictures. It is not my desire to "bash police" - I deal with them every day. I am simply stating what I have seen in many similar situations.

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 6, 2010 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Disagreement or not, mutual respect for one's opinion is always a given with me, Josh. But generalizations don't work for me, and I avoid them if possible. This is the danger we face with incident analysis like this. Emotion can blind us to seeing something clearly, and I feel strongly many are doing that here. Our focus should be on correction, not criticism, of any event like this. This, for me, is where all the talk about using common sense should be applied.

And you are right about post 9/11 security, Lupo, but I would add there is a growing, pervasive grey area at least here of border violence, internet fraud, identity theft (personal experience on that one) and more that being a purist or letter-of-the-law type doesn't fit in with always. I fly to Baja, MX occasionally and American registered 182's, 210's and other aircraft are being stolen regularly there. I may have been a bit theatrical with 'extra' pay for the cops, but you'll never sway my support for them for our peace and security in this ever increasingly dangerous world. They work a dangerous, tough and occasionally nasty-ugly-dirty job for us with the dregs and criminals of society. Rejoice if you will, I'm just content with the outcome and that they now will be able to correct any weaknesses. Works for me! Cin cin!

Posted by: David Miller | September 6, 2010 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Just a police equivalent to a "friendly fire" action followed by the usual "so sorry" ending?
In the final analysis the Chief had true class as shown in his telephone call to the victems.
Now, if those other police officers were well-trained and had maintained a little bit of common sense...the incident might have never occurred.
Police exist to "serve"...and "protection" should not include their acting in the way they did.
The incident is (or should be) an utter and absolute disapointment to law enforcement personnel everywhere.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 6, 2010 3:03 PM    Report this comment

"[J]ust let an officer turn a drunk driver loose ...". Once again, I respectfully disagree, "[N]othing in the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors. [...] As a general matter then, we conclude that a State's failure to protect an individual from private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause." DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195-97 (1989)(REHNQUIST, C.J.). Mr. Buzbee, the "many lawyers [that] show up to sue the officer" will see this case and language featured prominently in the judgment entry dismissing the lawsuit against the officer with costs awarded against the Plaintiff. (BTW, don't read the facts of this case unless you have a rather strong stomach.)

Posted by: Harry Reinhart | September 6, 2010 4:01 PM    Report this comment

I just finished reading "SB Police defend tactics." I noticed they had time to call the press so that a lot of nice photos could be taken of the "Big Bust".
Time enough for that, but not enough time to do their job correctly. Enough said.


Posted by: Sid Love | September 6, 2010 6:41 PM    Report this comment

I note with some disgust that the SBPD in their post incident defense make big noises about having followed their procedure exactly to the letter. I don't dispute this. I'm sure they did. If they need a pat on the back and an At-A-Boy for following a horribly flawed procedure, fine.

All those of us with any sense are really saying about the SBPD is that their procedure in this specific instance is ill-considered, wantonly reckless, and callously disregards the safety of innocent individuals. That they see no reason to modify their procedure is further proof of their inexcusable arrogance and indifference to the safety of "subjects".

As far as I'm concerned, this latest nonsense from SBPD just undid the all of the goodwill from the apology to the Kings by their Police Chief, and I'm back to never ever wanting to visit Santa Barbara.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 6, 2010 9:42 PM    Report this comment

"I just finished reading "SB Police defend tactics." I noticed they had time to call the press so that a lot of nice photos could be taken of the "Big Bust"....

News media have scanners and at times arrive on the scene before the police do. They are a pain. I know that when I was visiting Midway Tower one day they had a guy call in with gear problems. Almost immediately the phone rang and it was a reporter.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | September 7, 2010 8:03 AM    Report this comment

Police: Paris Hilton Got Special Treatment in Jail

So why not Martha and John???

Posted by: Jim Cistone | September 7, 2010 8:23 AM    Report this comment

Under the premise that NO publicity is bad publicity, you might note who sent emails far and wide reporting this incident. Now John wants to do training for the police?? C'mon folks, wake up. John is stirring up all this bru-ha-ha for his own benefit. He has absolutely NO qualifications to do training for the police. He obviously doesn't understand the problems they face.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | September 7, 2010 9:02 AM    Report this comment

Problems faced are not an excuse for:
1. Poor training...and,
2. Unprofessional conduct!
John might see personal benefit here, but that does not detract from obvious training/behavioural problems on the part of the police.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 7, 2010 9:26 AM    Report this comment

We have turned this forum into the battle between "cop bashers" and "cop supporters",which is complete BS.We are all for the cops but we expect,I guess, proportionality in the use of force.Linda quite frankly a "stolen" aircraft flying between Tijuana and San Diego or from San Diego to some private concealed airfield is one kind of potential "threat" warranting special "treatment",if drugs are the issue.Quite another is a flight from San Diego to Santa Barbara.Or are we seriously assuming that there is a high likelihood that because the aircraft was stolen, the guys operating it are very likely to go into a rampage with AK-47's in the airport cafeteria?

Lupo Rattazzi,Rome,Italy

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 7, 2010 9:43 AM    Report this comment

If I understand correctly, the Kings are offering their help to the police to learn aircraft familiarization and procedures in properly identifying aircraft by tail number/serial # to prevent another mistaken identify situation. Suggesting that the Kings are using this incident for self-promotion is mean-spirited and innacurate, and I can think of nobody better qualified to help the police to their job better. It's not as if they're offering to teach tactical procedures, as some here seem to think.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 7, 2010 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Police: Paris Hilton got special treatment in jail...so why not Martha and John??? -

if this isn't a shot of levity, then I guess.....ah, because they aren't in jail? and, at the aircraft, the cops didn't have one of the King's videos handy?

I listened to the podcast of Lt. McCaffrey and many other potential scenarios of possible hijack with the Kings as victims with a flight plan, aircraft rigged for a bomb, and others came up that showed the cops just never know and prepare for the worst...and I would like for someone to explain where the cops were 1. Poorly trained and 2. Unprofessional in their conduct. and 3. used 'horribly flawed procedure, wantonly reckless, and callously disregards the safety of innocent people'. We are pilots and represent one of the finest disciplines and freedoms available to man. The fact there is so little understanding of other disciplines like law enforcement shows our immature side with disdain for others doing their jobs when we should all be working together, and does nothing for our constant battle with the media and others to understand aviation, in my opinion.

And for me, not knowing Mr. King and whether he is an opportunist or not, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt with the emails being an outlet for the adrenaline that needed to discharge for probably a few days, if only that long.

Posted by: David Miller | September 7, 2010 1:57 PM    Report this comment

Unbelievable tirades against cops following procedure and just doing their jobs to the best of their ability (without a shot being fired). Naive reaction by civil libertarians supported by ambulance chasing lawyers who think we should live in an Ozzie & Harriet world. The anniversary of 9/11/01 should serve as a reminder of why this is a discussion at all. Everyone should go watch a news documentary of THAT day and then be glad someone is still out there in harms way trying to prevent more tragedy. This is much ado about nothing...except to step on someone's ego.

Posted by: William Crow | September 7, 2010 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Quite hilarious. And a tip of the hat for maintaining your sense of humor amidst of Cat 5 gale of unbelievable tirades from those pesky civil libertarians.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 7, 2010 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Enjoyed the video clip...too bad he didn't mention planes and trains along with the automobiles. LOL!

Posted by: William Crow | September 7, 2010 5:45 PM    Report this comment

Without a Miracle from God, Bruce,(cue music), I can see we wouldn't even agree on the color of the sky.

You evidently have an axe to grind with authority figures, and your irrational fear comes across nasty. Lighten up, dude, the sky ain't falling...that anger will eat you alive. Go up for an hour and enjoy the priviledged overview of our stunning planet. We're all in this together, my friend.

Posted by: David Miller | September 8, 2010 4:01 AM    Report this comment

"None of you have ever been in a similar situation to the Kings, so you will never be able to comprehend how they feel, or what is really at stake here.'

Well now, Bruce, I don't think you can say that with any authority. You don't even know where I am or what I do. And, in fact, I have been in a similar situation. I suggest you take Dave's advice, sir.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | September 8, 2010 8:17 AM    Report this comment

I think invoking 9/11 to justify the handling of the Kings at KSBA is quite a stretch.

Lupo Rattazzi

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 8, 2010 9:11 AM    Report this comment

Yes William, but you are overlooking a crucial detail:that the Kings' aircraft had landed and was already on the ground therefore certainly no longer representing the kind of threat posed in the air by the two guys you mentioned.And by the way,the aircraft in the Austin accident was NOT a stolen aircraft.No amount of gun drawing and felony stop tactics could have prevented that incident.Only a psychiatrist,maybe,could have.

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 8, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

OK Lupo...now you're splitting hairs on the specifics of each incident. To state the obvious...the pilot could have easily tried to take off again if they were trying to get away; hence the need for a quick and overpowering response by the cops to catch the perps off-guard (remember, the cops didn't know it was a paper mistake yet). That is standard police tactics 1-0-1 to overwhelm any potential advisary to "prevent" the kind of horrible situation that a shootout could cause. Obviously you believe we are living in the same societal world we did prior to 9/11...so my advice; go fly somewhere besides the U.S. where the cops are nicer.

Posted by: William Crow | September 8, 2010 11:25 AM    Report this comment

Wow, guys, is the weather where you are as nice as it is here in Denver? We only have this pesky wildfire west of Boulder which had burned over 50 homes, but otherwise it's a pretty day.

Did anybody watch Judge Judy yesterday -- I think she's a hoot.

(No, I haven't gone around the bend, but this conversation has developed into as much silly talk as this post is.)

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | September 8, 2010 11:49 AM    Report this comment

That's what I'm going to do,William.

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 8, 2010 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Not wanting to be a cop basher I think there was a bettter way. This was not Mayberry. Officers train for this type of event extensively and criminals sort of expect this. Having been in a similar situation I can say that the average law abiding citizen caught up in a mistake like this is in denial and confused. They do not react like people do on tv. It's very disconcerting to have multiple loaded weapons pointed at you and you may not react as anticipated. In the confusion you may not follow directions barked over a bullhorn. How many pilots and maybe their wives are willing to lay face down on a 150 degree tarmac before trying to explain to authorities that they have the wrong guy? It's great that it didn't happen in this case. I do appreciate the thin blue line and it is a tough world we live in. I don't believe John King is using this for his own ends but who better (except maybe the floks at AV Web) to work with airport authorities, police and pilots to share helpful information? We are in this together. Who in the world decided to reissue N numbers? I'm just saying .....

Posted by: Daniel Hughes | September 8, 2010 1:14 PM    Report this comment

For all the people that are ranting on the improper actions of the police in doing their job? I actually feel for the police where they have fewer rights to perform their duties then the criminals they are protecting us from. We are short to praise them in a job well done in protecting us daily. Linda P. said it best "John is stirring up all this bru-ha-ha for his own benefit. He has absolutely NO qualifications to do training for the police." This training would be tantamount to me using my pilot background and training to teach a welder to weld. If police departments need training on looking up N-numbers, ask the FAA.

Posted by: Dirk Diggler | September 8, 2010 3:35 PM    Report this comment

...for his own benefit'

We really don't know that for sure. And if he is? After the stress and shock of the incident, whatever his motives may be at least it seems he is leaning toward correction, not criticism. If he makes a few bucks, good for him. He probably has a lot of contacts with FSDO's, AOPA, etc. that can help the aviation angle with law enforcement agencies. Cut the guy some slack, and let's wait and see what if anything comes from all this.

Posted by: David Miller | September 8, 2010 4:08 PM    Report this comment

I'd say the Kings are motivated more by correcting a problem (which they experienced first hand) rather than anything else. Yet, some on this board are sounding off as if they're volunterring to teach the police tactical procedures. If it's so easy for the FAA to train police departments in identifying tail numbers/serial numbers for proper identification, why aren't they doing it then? Because they're a federal agency, and nobody expects anybody to go above and beyond their job description. The Kings know this is a problem and are looking to fix it. If they do nothing about it, nothing will change. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | September 9, 2010 8:24 AM    Report this comment

“Without a Miracle from God, Bruce,(cue music), I can see we wouldn't even agree on the color of the sky.”

Dave Miller:

The sky in your part of the country is surely a different color than where I live, due to different angle of the sun and high probability of different weather and differences in current pollution levels. I’ll take your word for whatever color the sky is now where you are.

Truth is, I agreed 100% with your Sept 1 post. Then, you blew it with your first Sept 3 post. Your next Sept 3 post added unnecessary sarcasm. Your first Sept 5 post would have been OK had you not exhibited an irrational and bitter hatred of all attorneys. By Sept 6, your posts became personal attacks on anyone and everyone who doesn’t worship the water upon which cops walk.

I don’t doubt for a microsecond that you’ve seen and heard about some horrible things in life. I’m sorry you had to endure that. Yes, border cops have a very dangerous job. The problem is: their job doesn’t apply to the subject of this thread.

My anger today isn’t with law enforcement. It is with your obnoxious personal attacks on those of us who believe that if armed Law Enforcement (policy or execution) is less than 100% perfect, then there exists some non-zero room for improvement, and it’s worth improving. This is essentially something you stipulated in your first post.

Your most recent post makes it sound like you suddenly realized how far off-topic you had gone. Can we be friends now?

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 9, 2010 11:18 PM    Report this comment

This appears to be a grossly mishandled incident. The police could have treated this like any traffic stop, requesting the aircraft occupants to remove themselves from the aircraft, identify themselves, check for weapons, have the pilot show licence and aircraft paper work in similar manner to border automibile or boat stops. If the result is not satisfactory as in this case, then the plane can be held for further investigation of the Lease/ownership that the police most certinly have a legal right to do. If that had been done there would have been no major incident as every pilot understands that his or her documents must be carried and shown to law enforcement officers upon request. I am asuming the pilot would have his licence and aircraft documents available for police inspection.

Posted by: Joe Scoles | September 12, 2010 4:29 PM    Report this comment

"no unnecessary handcuffing but certainly a couple of well placed sharpshooters on the roofs. "

So, if I understand you correctly. the sharpshooters would have shot the subjects if they had reacted violently. That is why we HANDCUFF or otherwise immobilize the subjects in the US. It is not only for the officer's protection, but their protection as well!!

There are MANY possible alternatives in the way this was handled, but we have to consider available information and resources. Unfortunately, as far as I know, SBPD does not have Eurofighters!

Posted by: Gary Counihan | September 13, 2010 7:28 PM    Report this comment

LOL! So, scrambling a couple of military fighters, rushing the plane with machine guns, dogs and the bomb squad isn't going to "scare the living daylights out of them"? I spent 30-years in the US Air Force and am quite familiar with scramble procedures, but to use this as an example of a kinder and gentler approach is almost comical. Not to mention, it's always tough for an F-16 or F-22 to keep pace with a C-172. I would think being buzzed by a military fighter would have it's own level of "stress" for a civilian pilot. Nothing like the thought of getting shot out of the sky by a wayward missle to get someone's attention.

Posted by: William Crow | September 13, 2010 8:19 PM    Report this comment

Lupo, you're teasing, rigt? They would have needed the robot to remove my soild underwear.

Posted by: Daniel Hughes | September 13, 2010 8:41 PM    Report this comment

I should have made myself clearer:obviously no need to scramble USAF or NG assets in the Santa Barbara case but it seems to me that the approach by the Security forces on the ground was kind of more "gentle" and "proportionate" in the example I showed at Pisa Airport.
And Gary ,you know VERY well that had the Kings moved unpredictably PRIOR to being handcuffed,when they were still only in the crosshairs of the SBPD,they would most probably no longer be here to tell the story.

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 14, 2010 12:55 AM    Report this comment

On September 12 Joe Scoles said very well what some of us have been trying to say. For me, it is difficult to fathom how the discussion could continue following Mr. Scoles post. All that was needed was right there in that post.
Further police training is much needed...and yes the police forces DO have a DIFFICULT job, but...well....golly gee whiz!

Posted by: Charles Elliot | September 16, 2010 7:56 AM    Report this comment

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