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Thwarting an attack: Flipping the off-duty switch to 'on'

The saying 'a cop is never really off-duty' has never been more true

Cpl. Justin Rogers had just spent a relaxing week with his family in Hawaii; his luggage, shoes and all, glided further and further away from him on the conveyor belt, and his wife and children stood on the other side of the X-ray body scanner, waiting for him to pass through.

Rogers was just a short flight away from being back to reality, working as an officer for Pinole, California. The TSA agent began to wave him through when he heard it: a crash. He pictured the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign he had passed at the start of the security line, where pilots and staff can bypass security, and thought it must have fallen over.

Next he heard the distinct sound of skin-to-skin contact. A punch.

Decision, Then Action
Rogers spun around to see a woman holding a TSA agent in a headlock. The noise, he would later learn, was the two punches the woman had thrown. His auditory senses switched off. He looked in every direction and saw no one moving toward the struggle.

Before he knew it, Rogers was running in the direction of the fight, making the quick decision of how he would go about getting the woman off the agent.

A wrestler in high school and a follower of mixed martial arts, his first thought was that her body would follow her head. He hopped over a short Plexiglas wall and in an instant had her pinned to the ground.

“I’m a cop!” he yelled to the security running behind him and threw his free hand up. He had heard a woman holler a concerned “Sir?” and feared he would be mistaken as a part of the problem.

As he turned to face security, he saw that their approach had become less aggressive. He asked for handcuffs and loosened his grip and arrested the woman. He made a written statement and handed it to airport security, and just like that, it was over.

“It’s almost instant — like a switch turning off and on — recognizing when a situation is about to escalate,” said Rogers, then playfully added, “We call it our Spidey sense.”

Following His Instincts
The attacker was a woman who often hung around the airport and had recently been scolded for smoking. She attacked the agent after being denied access to a secured area.

As Rogers held her on the ground, he realized she had urinated everywhere.

After being cleaned up and sprayed down with the help of airport security, Rogers boarded his flight.

His son, later recalling the incident, described how everyone screamed as they watched the attack and no one moved. Rogers couldn’t recall hearing any screaming.  

He didn’t see the surveillance footage until it was released to the media, where it quickly went viral. Watching it, he saw himself doing things he hadn’t realized at the time.

“I reached my right hand out and loosened the grip on her neck,” he said. “It’s interesting how your body responds and how you’re able to adapt [in that situation]. Obviously time and experience go into that. You can change the tone of your voice, you adapt your commands and your physical actions as the incident evolves.”

The former member of the Navy and 11-year police veteran has since been thanked by the TSA, received countless emails from current and former cops, and even got a phone call from TSA Administrator and former FBI Deputy Director John Pistole congratulating him on his efforts. 

Around Pinole, he’s still recognized months later as the cop from the video. 

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