What began as a simple boarding dispute at Miami International Airport escalated into a tour de force of plane drama on Sunday as a belligerent passenger was repeatedly stunned by police, forcibly carried out of his seat, then driven through the terminal with his head hanging out the back of a golf cart like a man in a stockade.
And all that was before, police say, Jacob Garcia lunged for an officer’s gun and kicked out a squad car window.
Better start at the beginning.
Garcia, 28, with a handlebar mustache whose precise curls somehow survived the exertions to come, boarded the American Airlines flight around 9 p.m., bound for his hometown of Chicago.
But before the plane could leave the airport in Miami, police wrote in their report, a seatmate accused Garcia of harassing her. An American Airlines manager asked Garcia to switch seats, police wrote – at which point Garcia “began to scream and insult” the woman and her boyfriend, and a fight broke out.
“This guy seemed to be agitated on boarding, and was harassing passengers and saying racial slurs to several people,” passenger Jabari Ennis later recounted on Twitter. Ennis sent The Washington Post video of the first altercation, taken from his vantage point across the plane aisle.
“You’re ignorant because you’ve got all these people standing here,” a woman says in the video, standing over a seat that apparently contains Garcia.
“You’re ignorant!” the seat’s occupant replies.
“Put your finger down!”
The sounds of slapping ensues.
The flight crew asked all passengers to deplane around that point, American Airlines said in a statement. But Garcia kept fighting, so several Miami-Dade police officers boarded the plane.
The subsequent confrontation was recorded from multiple viewpoints by Ennis and other passengers, some of whom expressed vocal interest in seeing Garcia removed from the plane.
“You need to stop talking, dude,” an onlooker told him, as three relatively large officers tried to lift the 5-foot-7 man from his aisle seat, and everyone ignored the captain’s voice over the intercom.
“What is the reason you’re removing me from this plane?” Garcia yelled, over and over. “What is the reason you’re removing me from this plane?”
“Well, you just assaulted a lady, for one,” someone replied. “You’re a racist, for two.”
“What is the reason?” Garcia repeated. “I’m asking you right now.”
The officers leaned over him.
One brought out handcuffs.
One said: “Do not fight.”
“You have to answer!” Garcia said.
“Do not fight!” an officer said.
“Fine,” Garcia said. “Tase me, and you’ll see what happens.”
Quite a few passengers had delayed getting off the plane to watch Garcia struggle.
Several spectators drew back when they saw officer Roody Desroches draw his stun gun, but kept watching.
“Johnson, watch out,” Desroches warned the officer pinning Garcia to his seat as he aimed the weapon.
“No, go ahead,” Garcia taunted. “Go ahead, Johnson.”
The other officer moved out of the way, and Desroches pulled the trigger.
Garcia’s shirt seemed to flicker with electricity, and he hardly seemed to notice.
In their report, police would explain that only one of the weapon’s two prongs attached to Garcia’s skin, which might have lessened its effect.
They also explained what happened next.
“Get . . . out of here,” Garcia yelled, and slapped Desroches’ hand away.
The officer activated the device again.
And again. And again – 10 times in total, police later wrote.
But Garcia kept squirming, inquiring again and again why he was being removed, as the constant rapid clicking of a high voltage weapon soundtracked his protests.
A woman screamed.
A man three seats back craned his neck for a better view.
After nearly a minute of zapping, Garcia twisted his head free from beneath an officer’s knee. He looked up at Desroches and half-smiled.
“Why am I being removed?” he asked.
Officers finally got Garcia into handcuffs and cleared the other passengers from the plane.
But as they dragged him down the aisle, they wrote later, Garcia “locked his feet around the legs of seats in his area and it was necessary to pull him forward and carry him towards the exit.”
He was walking by the time he emerged from the skybridge, his shirttail half pulled up his torso, and addressed his fellow passengers as they once again took out their cameras.
“I need all of you – ” he told the jeering crowd, but was interrupted as officers pushed him into the back of a golf cart.
“Sit!” one commanded.
“I will sit,” Garcia said, “if you do not push me down.”
Two officers forced Garcia’s stiff legs to buckle, as if bending a stubborn mannequin, and pressed him into the back of the cart. They used their body weight to pressing his head down so that, doubled over, his head hung a few inches over the rear bumper as the cart sped away.
And still, he yelled.
“I mean, everyone here is seeing this,” Garcia said.
Flight 2446 finally left Miami an hour late that night, American said, and the passengers who remained did not see the rest of Garcia’s journey to jail.
But it didn’t get any easier, as described by police.
“As Mr. Garcia was being escorted from the terminal, he collapsed to ground in an effort to impede the officers’ efforts,” the arrest report states. Desroches, the officer who had ineffectively stunned him on the plane, shifted to lift him up.
“As he did this,” police wrote, “Mr. Garcia reached for and grabbed officer Desroches’ handgun.”
Descroches knocked his hand away, the report says, and turned to prevent Garcia from lunging for the gun again.
When police finally got him into the squad car, they said, Garcia managed to kick a window out of its frame. It will cost $150 to repair.
The Miami Herald reported that Garcia was booked into jail on charges of “battery, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer without violence, criminal mischief and attempting to deprive an officer with means of protection.”
The Washington Post was unable to reach Garcia, but CBS Chicago spoke to his former legal guardian, Phyllis Clark, who said he was a straight-A veterinary school student whose usual demeanor was nothing like the man in the videos.
“He’s very giving, very loving,” she said. “You know, he loves animals. He loves people.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Avi Selk