Jan. 30--An armed passenger stopped by TSA last week received concierge-style service from the Orlando Sanford International Airport Police Department.
Rather than arrest the man Friday, as is customary at the larger Orlando International Airport, cops allowed Michael Deegan to catch his flight to Ohio and held the loaded .38-caliber revolver for him while he was away.
On Monday evening, Deegan returned from Columbus and retrieved his gun. He headed home to Fort Pierce without criminal charges, unlike more than 1,000 armed passengers arrested at U.S. airports last year, according to interviews and records.
"There appears to be no nexus to terrorism and this report is for informational purposes only," police wrote. "There was no disruption of airport activities due to this incident."
The senior police officer on the scene Friday was Cmdr. Larry Dale, who also serves as Sanford Airport Authority's chief executive officer and president.
"I think the report speaks for itself," Dale said when asked Wednesday afternoon why he didn't arrest Deegan. "We determined the circumstances didn't warrant an arrest in this case."
Unlike Orlando International Airport, which led Florida airports with 47 gun confiscations last year, the Sanford airfield rarely deals with armed passengers. Records of the federal Transportation Security Administration show one gun seizure in 2013, two in 2012 and one in 2011.
Orlando police assigned to OIA confiscated guns in every case last year, and all but a few of the armed passengers were booked at the Orange County Jail for violating state law prohibiting firearms in preboarding screening areas. The two or three not arrested in Orlando last year were issued affidavits of prosecution summary, which leave the arrest decision up to the State Attorney's Office, according to interviews.
Most of those arrested at OIA were concealed-weapon-permit holders, who face a misdemeanor charge for carrying a firearm in a place prohibited by law. Anyone without a permit faces a felony charge of carrying a concealed firearm.
Though Deegan was not charged criminally, anyone caught with a gun while attempting to board a commercial flight faces up to $11,000 in federal civil fines, according to TSA.
A religious man, Deegan, 56, serves on the board of a Vero Beach food bank, He Shall Supply Ministries. Like so many other Florida concealed-weapon-permit holders, he said he simply forgot his revolver, loaded with hollow-point rounds, was in his bag until he noticed a TSA officer pointing at her X-ray screen.
"At that point, my jaw hit the floor," Deegan said during a telephone interview. "I started praying, 'Lord, I don't know if you can get me out this.'"
A short time later, he said, Dale and another police officer started questioning where he bought the gun, how long he had owned it, his concealed-weapon permit and other gun matters.
"He asked me, 'Mr. Deegan, you know you broke a federal law?' And, I said, 'Yes, sir," Deegan recalled of talking with Dale. "He did mention, 'If you had been in any other airport, they would be carting you away right now."
Dale then agreed to hold the gun for him while he flew to Ohio.
"To be honest, it was a miracle," Deegan said. "God intervened and answered my prayers."
Dale was out of the office Wednesday afternoon and did not have access to reports on the airport's previous armed-passenger cases. He did not recall how they were handled, he said. But Dale said the FBI agreed with his decision not to make an arrest Friday.
The FBI agent assigned to OSIA remembers getting a courtesy call from airport police about the incident, according to Special Agent Dave Couvertier, an FBI spokesman.
"The FBI is focused on potential federal violations. This didn't rise to our threshold," he said. "Any application of state law would be the responsibility of the state law-enforcement agency."
The airport Police Department does not have a written policy on how to handle incidents when armed passengers try to board flights.
Orlando International Airport ended 2013 with more gun arrests than any other Florida airport, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration
A man and woman in plainclothes who claimed to have peace officer authority to transport a prisoner out of state entered a screening area in the airport's Terminal 3 on Friday morning.
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With the sheriff's helicopter hovering overhead, the pilot and a passenger were removed at gunpoint. Both were cooperative and were released after questioning.