Stabbed airport officer battled attacker until 'last click' of the handcuffs
Lt. Jeff Neville, who underwent surgery Wednesday, remains in a local hospital where he is recovering
By Hasan Dudar
Detroit Free Press
FLINT, Mich. — Chief Chris Miller and Lt. Dan Owen were in a conference room Wednesday planning for a meeting to evaluate how Bishop International Airport in Flint handled an airport evacuation on June 8 for what was feared to be an explosive device.
That’s when the real danger struck.
They both reported hearing a commotion going on nearby. Someone was yelling, but they couldn’t make out what was being said.
From the conference room’s large window, Owen could see airport police officer Lt. Jeff Neville and an unnamed maintenance worker wrestling with a “fairly large man.”
Owen, an airport fire and rescue worker, and Miller, the airport’s director of public safety, rushed out of the conference room, and within seconds, Owen said he and Miller were on top of the man, who was gripping a knife in his hand when they arrived on the scene.
Someone was bleeding, but Owen still didn’t know who, as he, Miller, and the maintenance worker tried to subdue the suspect, Amor M. Ftouhi, who is a dual citizen of Canada and Tunisia.
The blood was coming from Neville, who was stabbed in the neck.
Owen was able to break the suspect’s grip on the knife, and at one point in the struggle, Miller said, the knife was on the floor before it was secured.
Owen said Neville stayed in the fight until more help arrived.
“He was continuously trying to free, to get the knife out of the gentleman’s hand, and put handcuffs on him,” Owen said.
“I told him, ‘I have this guy, I have him, Jeff. Roll off, get off.’”
Miller, who handcuffed Ftouhi, said Neville didn’t stop fighting until the “last click” on the handcuffs.
“Jeff is a fighter. He’s fighting now. He wants to get out of the hospital and back to work as quick as possible,” Owen said.
Neville, who underwent surgery Wednesday, remains in a local hospital where he is recovering.
“He’s smiling, he’s talking, and he’s glad to be alive,” said Miller, who visited Neville late Wednesday.
The maintenance worker was also taken to a local hospital “under an abundance of caution,” according to airport director Craig Williams. He was treated and released the same day.
The hero and the best friend
Neville has called the maintenance man, as well as his other coworkers, a hero, Genesee County Commissioner Mark Young said.
Williams said he believes the unnamed maintenance worker's actions saved Neville's life.
"He jumped up there and did something that is courageous," Williams said during a news conference this afternoon. "I’d like to say we’d all do the same thing, but I can’t even say that I would … I can’t thank him enough."
Young, a close friend of Neville for 35 years, ever since their days together as colleagues at the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department, said he visited Neville on Wednesday and that the injured officer was grateful to the people who helped to subdue the suspect.
“You know, I believe that his feelings at that point in time was just that, he realizes that it could have been much worse, under the circumstances, that he was lucky that wounds weren’t much more serious,” Young said.
Young, a Democrat, refers to Neville, a Republican, as his best friend, but said there are probably a lot of people who regard the officer as their best friend.
“I mean, he’s just probably one of the best-hearted people I’ve met in my life,” Young said. “He’s really proactive as far as trying to help people, trying to minimize problems that they have. But the same point in time, he’s also a fantastic police officer.”
Young said that even though he and Neville differ politically — something that can lead to heated disputes between the two — they still share the same fundamental values.
“It’s also one of the things that we do have dialogue back and forth on,” Young said. “I think we both grow from it. We both can see the humor and see the wisdom on both sides of it."
Airport police chief Miller can tell you the exact date he and Neville met: Feb. 22, 1982.
On that day, Miller and Neville began their careers as young deputies together in the sheriff’s department. He said back then they were “just glad to be going into an honorable profession, to serve.”
Miller started working at the airport in 2000, and a Neville followed him a year later in 2001.
Miller described the day’s events as “surreal” and said that it was something he’s never experienced throughout his 17 years of service at the airport.
“We’ve never experienced one of our own being injured,” Miller said. “And for it to be someone close to me, as Jeff Neville is to me, it’s tough.”
'The good Lord is looking over all of us'
The attack took place at 9:45, just before the 10 a.m. meeting that Miller and Owen were preparing for when they heard the commotion. It was related to an incident involving an unattended bag at the airport that took place two weeks earlier and included local and state law enforcement agencies, Williams said.
"In some ways, the good Lord was looking over all of us," he said. “Because we had a lot of resources that were on site and already on the way to the airport to attend that meeting, which was just down the hall from where the attack took place.”
The alleged attacker is locked up pending a detention hearing on June 28.
Officials said Ftouhi yelled “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is great” in Arabic, pulled out the knife and stabbed Neville in the neck in a public area of the airport. The area, on the second floor of the airport, is adjacent to an escalator landing and overlooks airline ticketing counters below. Miller said that as the struggle went on, some people were still coming up the escalator and witnessed it.
Ftouhi faces a charge of committing a violent act in an airport, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.
Williams said the airport has resumed normal operations, but said that Thursday morning was difficult for everybody there as they tried to balance returning to a normal workday while recovering from Wednesday’s events.
“It was the single most traumatic day,” Williams said. “I’ve had more difficult days but I’ve not had any more traumatic days than yesterday.”
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