Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown says two recent incidents in which his officers were the targets of violence showed "a total disregard for basic dignity and respect."
Two officers working at the Salt Lake City International Airport suffered minor injuries in separate incidents. In one case, an officer fought with a man who tried to barge into a secured area of the airport. In the second case, an officer who was walking through the lobby of the main terminal was suckerpunched without warning or provocation by another man.
"I'm appalled. I'm appalled at the behavior that these people showed toward my law enforcement officers here at the airport. It breaks my heart to see these type of things happen to my officers," Salt Lake City Police Capt. Stefhan Bennett, head of police operations at the airport, said Tuesday.
The police department released body camera videos of the two incidents on Tuesday, as well.
The first incident occurred on Feb. 17 about 3:20 p.m. Bennett said a 28-year-old man had been acting strangely in the lobby of the main terminal, prompting security to keep a closer watch on him. The man then walked up to the front of the baggage screening line.
At first, the man just stands in the area where passengers have their bags checked. Then he attempts to walk past officers into the secured area of the airport. The man is immediately tackled by a Salt Lake City police officer.
A TSA agent assists the officer in knocking the man to the ground.
"I need backup," the officer is heard on the video talking into his two-way radio before he turned his attention to the man. "I need you to calm down, sir. Calm down."
The officer repeated several times for the man to calm down. He then is able to get handcuffs on one of the man's wrists. But as he tried to roll the man over to cuff his other wrist, the man began to fight back. Bennett said his officer was punched twice and kicked at least once in the head, adding that, in bodycam and surveillance video, "You can see the officer gets dazed briefly. But my officer, very professional, stays in the fight, trying to get this guy safely into custody."
As the officer continued to struggle with the man, a traveler going through the security line, Enrique Rodriguez — who is a retired law enforcer — jumped in to help the officer. Rodriguez knocked the man back to the ground and helped hold him there until other backup officers could arrive.
Bennett said Tuesday he was "very thankful" for Rodriguez's help.
"When you're in the middle of a fight, 30 seconds can seem like an hour. It was incredibly positive that that member of the traveling public stepped in and helped him at that moment to get things under control until my other officers could get there," he said.
The arrested man, whose name has not been released, now faces potential federal charges.
The second incident happened on March 12 about 8:40 p.m. Two officers were walking through the lobby when without warning, John Dane Baydo, 33, came up from behind and punched officer Cody Orgill in the head, according to police. Baydo then briefly appeared to be ready to punch the second officer when he put his hands up, got on his knees and surrendered without further incident.
"We have no motive on that gentleman. He made no statements to my officers. He's made no statements to date about why he was here or what he was doing or what his intentions were," Bennett said.
Late last week, Baydo was charged in federal court with interfering with airport personnel. He is scheduled to be back in court on April 1.
Bennett said in both incidents, neither man had a plane ticket to travel on the day they were arrested. Investigators were still trying to determine Tuesday how Baydo got to the airport, noting that he may be from out of state, Bennett said.
Overall, the airport is a very safe working environment for officers, and incidents like these are an "extremely rare occurrence," Bennett said. However, the severity and the randomness of the incidents are "extremely concerning," he said.
"When I see these things happen it just definitely tears at me, because the officer was just doing his job patrolling the airport, keeping things safe for the traveling public," Bennett said.
He said he would always like to have more officers assigned to the airport, but otherwise there isn't much police can do in addition to what they already do each day to prevent such occurrences. But he fears that with air travel picking up again, there may be additional confrontations in the future.
"I don't know that we'll see them go away. I hope we do. But as we see people traveling — the numbers are going up again — which is a very positive thing for the country. But with those numbers come increased encounters. We just need to stay vigilant," he said, adding, "I think this loss of civility across the country needs to change."