By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Two men have been charged after a brawl broke out at Miami International Airport Monday evening.

According to the Miami-Dade Police Department, officers were called out to gate H8 at around 6:35 p.m. after an airport employee reported a disturbance stemming from a delayed charter flight.

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Mayfrer Serranopaca, 30, from Kissimmee, reportedly stopped the driver of a Turkish Airlines transport golf cart, jumped on its hood, and demanded that the driver have someone call Air Century Airline and have them tell him what was going on with the delayed flight.

When the driver replied that he didn’t work for that airline, Serranopaca allegedly said he didn’t care and reached into the golf cart and snatched its key. When he did that, the key broke off in the ignition switch. The driver then ran off to notify the police.

When officers arrived, they found Serranopaca sitting in the golf cart’s front seat. When the officers tried to calm him down, Serranopaca stood up and started screaming toward the crowd, according to his arrest report.

Worried that the situation would escalate, one of the officers tried to use his radio to call for backup. That’s when Serranopaca allegedly grabbed his arm and attempted to pull the officer toward him.

Fearing for his safety, the officer gave Serranopaca a “distraction strike” to the left side of his face, according to the report.

“He was turning away to walk away when the subject grabbed him and pulled on his hand. The officer responded back by striking him which we’re trained to do. It’s an assault on the officer,” said Steadman Stahl, president of the South Florida PBA.

The hit caused Serranopaca to fall backward off the cart.

When the officers went to take him into custody, several people in the large crowd that had formed around them tried to intervene and stop him from being taken.

When one of the officers pulled away and attempted to call for backup, Serranopaca began to punch him in the head and neck area, according to the report. When the officer went to grab Serranopaca around the waist, Serranopaca bit him on the head, according to the report. The officer was also struck by several people in the crowd.

“The police were called out there to deal with customer service problems that they did not create and the crowd ends up attacking the officer while they’re trying to make an arrest,” said Stahl.

Stahl told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “When the crowd gathered around him, he pulled out his weapon and was in fear for his life. It was a dangerous situation. This was an unruly crowd. There is a bigger issue out there and that is the assault on people at airports. Every time you turn on the TV you hear about new assaults at gates.”

The officer then let go of Serranopaca and noticed several members of the crowd advancing on them. Fearing for his safety and the safety of his fellow officer, he drew his gun and pointed it in the direction of the “incited” crowd, according to the report.

Both officers then backed away from the crowd.

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When two more officers arrived, they were able to take Serranopaca into custody.

Alberto Suarez, 32, of Odessa, Texas was also arrested for reportedly grabbing and trying to pull the officers off Serranopaca.

Indira Pardillo, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, said, “It was very unfortunate and we sympathize with the passengers who were here over 20 hours because their flight got cancelled twice. But we ask for passengers to be patient and they can call our hotline at (305) 876-7000 or contact a supervisor. But be patient and be kind. Know that our airport officials and officers are there for your safety and security. Please work with us and try to make everything as comfortable as possible.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told CBS4, “There has been an alarming increase in these incidents around the country. We have done everything we can to prepare for it. We have trained airport personnel. They have been trained on how to defuse tensions and hostility. This was an unfortunate incident. These incidents are really unfortunate because they can really spoil the holiday for everyone. Please everyone be calm and be patient. If you see something, say something. It is time to help, not just to take video and share it.”

In light of the brawl, Miami International Airport officials have confirmed that Miami-Dade police have placed a Rapid Deployment Force team inside the terminals. They will be stationed there through the holidays.

SEE IT: Brawl Breaks Out At Miami International Airport

 

Serranopaca has been charged with battery on a police officer, burglary of a vehicle, inciting a riot, criminal mischief, and false imprisonment.

Suarez has been charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

MIA Director and CEO Ralph Cutié released the following statement on the incident:

“Like airports across the country, MIA is seeing record-high passenger numbers this winter travel season. Unfortunately, that passenger growth has come with a record-high increase nationwide in bad behavior as well, such as the incident this evening at MIA. Disruptive passengers face police arrest, civil penalties up to $37,000, being banned from flying, and potential federal prosecution. We have worked so hard to rebound from the pandemic and make traveling safe again, so we can visit our loved ones. Please travel responsibly by getting to the airport extra early, being patient, complying with the federal mask law and airport staff, limiting your alcohol consumption, and notifying police at the first sign of bad behavior by calling 911.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 5,664 unruly passenger incidents so far this year nationwide, with 72 percent of those incidents stemming from arguments over the federal mask mandate at airports and in-flight, and many related to alcohol consumption.

Some flight attendants are urging the government to take action.

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“The biggest problem for flight attendants is that when there is inconsistency and communication that puts us in harm’s way because we are charged with enforcing that mask mandate,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Peter D'Oench