Miami airport passenger punches federal officer who tells her to put away cellphone

08/16/2014 1:44 PM

08/16/2014 6:30 PM

A traveler was arrested at Miami International Airport after she punched a federal officer who took her cellphone after she refused to stop talking on it in an area where mobile use is prohibited, according to papers filed in Miami federal court.

The incident occurred July 28, the day Rosalía Matos arrived from the Dominican Republic and was awaiting baggage inspection.

Court papers show she decided to use her cellphone in the passport and baggage control area, where mobile use is barred. Federal officers ordered Matos to put away her cellphone. She refused to stop talking on her cellphone and then got into the scuffle with the federal officer, who took away her mobile. Other officers moved in and arrested Matos, who is awaiting formal charges after being granted bond by a federal magistrate. An arraignment has been scheduled for next week.

The Matos case, though extreme, underscores a typical problem at international airport immigration and baggage areas where the use of cellphones is prohibited. Tensions are always present between passengers using their phones and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers ordering them to put them away.

Not every incident turns violent, but once in a while, officers encounter angry passengers reluctant to shut off their cellphones. That’s what happened in Matos’ case, according to a criminal complaint.

The case began when Matos — a U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic — arrived at MIA aboard an American Airlines flight from Santo Domingo, according to the criminal complaint filed by a Transportation Security Administration senior federal air marshal.

“While waiting in the CBP primary inspection area, Matos used her cellular telephone, which is prohibited,” the complaint said. “CBP instructed Matos several times to stop using her cellular telephone. Matos ignored the request and continued to use her telephone.”

A CBP officer escorted Matos to a room in which investigators question passengers if they are suspected of violating immigration or customs laws. Matos, however, continued to use her cellphone, despite instructions to put it away.

The altercation escalated after a CBP officer took Matos’ cellphone while she was speaking into it. After taking the phone, the officer set it down beside Matos, the complaint says.

“Matos became verbally abusive towards CBP and called one CBP officer a ‘bitch,’ ” the complaint says.

Since Matos refused to calm down, one of the CBP officers surrounding her attempted to handcuff her to a chair. That’s when Matos became violent, according to the complaint.

“Matos lunged forward, and with a closed right fist struck [the officer] in the face, under his left eye,” according to the complaint. “As CBP [officer] moved back in response, Matos used the back of her left hand to again strike the left side of CBP officer … face. As a result of Matos’ assault, [the officer] had contusion and swelling below his left eye.”

In the end, several CBP officers managed to subdue Matos and succeeded in handcuffing her.

Matos’ attorney could not be reached for comment.

After the magistrate granted Matos a $50,000 bond, she was freed. The magistrate also allowed Matos to travel to central Florida to retrieve a vehicle that had been repossessed.

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