Menu Close

Guns, Handcuffs for John and Martha

Santa Barbara Police approach the airplane with guns drawn. (Photo by Robby Barthelmess, from Santa Barbara News-Press)

We All Deserve Better

Article appeared in Flying Magazine September 2021 by John King

In August of 2010, we taxied up in front of the line of four police cars as we were directed by ground control, instead of to the FBO where our friends were waiting to meet us.  Martha said, “This is going to be interesting.”  As we shut down the engine, we heard the bullhorn aimed at us, “Pilot, very slowly open your door.  Pilot, very slowly stick both hands out the door and come out very slowly.”

Martha and I take turns flying and each can fly from either seat.  In this case I was not particularly eager to declare myself as the pilot.  Finally, I “agreed” to be the pilot.

A wider angle view of the situation at Santa Barbara Airport. (Photo by Robby Barthelmess, from Santa Barbara News-Press)

As I exited the airplane the bullhorn said, “Pilot, keep your hands high in the air.  Face away from the sound of the bullhorn, and back very slowly towards it.”  Next, “Pilot, put your hands together behind your back.”  When they had my hands cuffed, they put me in the back of a squad car.

Martha very carefully exits the airplane.(Photo by Robby Barthelmess, from Santa Barbara News-Press)

Next came the instructions to Martha, “Passenger, very slowly open your door.  Passenger, very slowly stick both hands out the door and come out very slowly.”  As Martha exited the airplane the bullhorn said, “Passenger, keep your hands high in the air.  Face away from the sound of the bullhorn, and back very slowly towards it.”  Next, “Passenger, put your hands together behind your back.”  From my viewpoint in the squad car, I watched with distress as they cuffed Martha’s hands behind her back.  It was very disturbing to see they had their pistols aimed at Martha’s head the entire time , right up until they put her into a separate squad car.  It is a sight I will never forget.

What was taking place is what is referred to as a “high risk” traffic stop.  It is designed to prevent the suspect from fleeing and to protect the police officers.

Later, the Santa Barbara police told us that a “private company” had called them and reported that N50545 had been stolen and was on its way to Santa Barbara Airport.  In fact, the airplane that had been stolen (eight years earlier) was a 1968 C150J and the registration for that airplane had been cancelled in September of 2005.  The registration number was then reassigned by the FAA to the airplane we were flying, a 2009 Cessna 172S owned by Cessna Aircraft Corporation.  It would have taken less than 60 seconds on the FAA website to reveal these facts.

It was very disturbing for John to watch Martha be on the receiving end of guns and handcuffs from the Santa Barbara Police.(Photo by Robby Barthelmess, from Santa Barbara News-Press)

Apparently the Santa Barbara Police took the word of an agency they were not familiar with, failed to make even the most rudimentary checks on the web, confused a 2009 Cessna 172S for a 1968 150J, and on that basis put us at grave risk by creating a situation that could have been lethal.

The “company” that had called the Santa Barbara police was the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC).  In reality, this “private company” is shown on the web as an agency of DEA.  One of the functions of EPIC is to maintain crime databases and distribute the information to police departments.  One of those databases is the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is a database of crime information including, among many other things, stolen airplanes.  EPIC notified the Santa Barbara police based on the IFR flight plan we had filed on that August morning in 2010—something anyone who had stolen the airplane would have been unlikely to do.

The concerning issue about this is that apparently nobody is going to the trouble to remove a registration number from the stolen aircraft list when a registration number is re-assigned by the FAA.  As a result, completely innocent citizens wind up being detained at gunpoint.  It appears there is no system in place to prevent this from happening repeatedly.  We’ve had numerous pilots tell us they had the same thing happen to them—including a previous case with the identical airplane.  The database had not been corrected even after it became known that a pilot had been detained and put at risk unnecessarily.  It is apparent the result of this systemic negligence is often guns and handcuffs applied to an innocent pilot.  It is something the pilot and passengers will never forget.  We all deserve more care than that.

The biggest question that comes to my mind is whether our case really needed to be treated as a “high-risk” traffic stop.  It is our belief the situation could have been managed in a way that didn’t require guns being pointed at our heads.  If they had allowed us to simply go directly to the FBO, we would have shut down the airplane and then self-disabled it by ensuring it was chocked and tied down.  At that point, the police could have approached us and had a calm conversation without guns and with very little risk.  The problem is, in most cases the police don’t know enough about aviation to know the pilot in almost every case would self-disable the airplane.  They imagine the pilot somehow fleeing when they realize the police want to talk to them.  That, of course, is not as likely in an airplane as in a car.  But it was more likely to happen in the open area the police chose for the confrontation than in a tight parking area at an FBO.

Our concern about this is that guns induce risk.  Martha and I had been impressed by an incident near our home where the police had miscopied a license plate number and followed an innocent teenager home.  The mother became upset by the treatment of her son and had been shoved away by the police.  When the teenager leapt off the ground in support of his mother he was shot to death.  Martha and I subsequently developed what we called our “interception standard operating procedure (SOP): comply fully, never complain, never explain.  A police interception presents a risk that the subject can best control by using our SOP and keeping their emotions under control.  When guns are added to a situation everyone is more adrenaline-charged, and that risk is heightened by argumentation—or even mere explanation.  I remember sitting in the back of the squad car thinking to myself, “Someday I will have my say about this, but it isn’t now.”  Later, in a press release, the police department was quoted as saying, “They were completely OK with it.  They were laughing and jovial afterward.”  At that time one of the officers said to us, “You know we had to do this, don’t you?”  Of course we didn’t believe they had to do it and we weren’t completely OK with it.  It’s just that fortunately each of us followed our SOP to the letter.

One of our frequent observations is that flying supports achievement in life because it helps create good habits that develop everything you have: physical aptitude, mental aptitude, and emotional aptitude.  Unquestionably, keeping control of your emotions is an important component in managing stressful situations in an airplane.  This situation points out that the habit of keeping your emotions under control that is developed in an airplane becomes valuable in many of life’s situations, not the least of which is in managing the risks of a confrontation with law enforcement.

The upside of the entire situation is that it gave us great joke lines for our future talks:

  1. When the “pilot” was commanded to exit, likely to face a gun, nothing happened very quickly. As we tell the story, we were sitting in the airplane pointing at each other and proclaiming, “You’re the pilot.” “No, you’re the pilot.”
  2. “I’ve made a lot of bad landings, but none of them have ever been criminal before.”
  3. “Guns, handcuffs…Worst ramp check we’ve ever had.”


  1. Another Pilot

    It might be worth pointing out that the portion of EPIC’s “Services” description that deals with EPIC’s Reseach and Analysis section describes that section’s function as: “The Research and Analysis Section offers financial asset intelligence to identify potentially forfeitable assets”. It doesn’t say who they offer this intelligence to, but I wonder if this mess was a result a law enforcement action intended to deal with a “threat” or if this agency is just in the business of trolling for revenue generating opportunities and uses local law enforcement to execute potential seizures?

  2. DL

    Did you ever stop to think why cops are always famous for being dumb? Simple. Because they don’t have to be anything else. – Orson Welles

  3. Doug

    I don’t know why, but my original comment seems to have dropped off, so I’m just going to state the basics.
    Yup. The FAA dropped the ball and the Fed offices were just doing their jobs…hardly an excuse for this episode however.
    As far as the Santa Barbara Police, they were doing what they are trained to do. As a retired airline pilot, we were trained to expect this type of intervention if our aircraft was suspect for some reason. It is SOP at ANY airport to isolate the aircraft in the most remote area possible; get the crew and passengers off at gunpoint, and all are put under arrest until they get the situation under control.
    The aircraft is isolated to do several things: keep the situation away from other citizens who could be injured in a possible shootout with the bad guys as they exit the aircraft, and isolate the aircraft incase the bad guys have a bomb on board and just think it might be a good idea to destroy the aircraft and take as many others with them as possible. Yes, this has happened.
    The color of your skin has NOTHING to do with this and we shouldn’t even be mentioning it.
    The police don’t owe John and Martha an apology, but the Feds do.
    Let’s all keep our cool out there and stop with the negative comments. If anything, we should all be trying to work together to figure out how to stop this from happening again.
    John and Martha did the right thing. Cooperate and graduate.

  4. Isaac

    I was approached by a swat team in Canada because the CAPASS agent didn’t like how I listed my crew. What a waste of effort and energy.

  5. Isaac

    This is another example of over-reaction and excessive use of force by law enforcement. It exemplifies a lack of proper training and procedure. There have many incidents of harm and fatalities due to this type of bravado behavior.

  6. Carey Roberts

    Perceptions aren’t always reality, Even if you experience it for yourself. Body cam and video have proven time and time again that reality can differ greatly than the person’s perception experiencing a law enforcement encounter. For example; from the back of a patrol car, how do you know a firearm that is 4 inches long and, lets say, 15-20 yards away is pointed at someone’s head unless it is pressed against their head?

    Now the biggest take away from the article is their “SOP”. They have talked about it, thereby “trained”. They understood and taught to each other that DURING the encounter is not the time to be a revolutionary, jail house lawyer, fearless Alpha. They understood they will have their day in court. You may not like it. You may think they are wrong and you are right, but you are foolish if you think you are going to scare them or argue with them in that moment in time to alter their course, which usually was NOT initiated by them (as in this case EPIC).

    I’m glad the King’s are ok and I hope they filed the appropriate complaints against anyone that acted out of carelessness or disregard for their safety.

    • Richard G

      Because the head or middle kill shot is where most cops aim? And yes, I had a shotgun put on my head once during a stop. Without the police identifying themselves. I’ve never been more scared in my life, even in battle. In battle I knew who the enemy was and what to expect.
      This is a completely different experience. I did find it worse than battle. I’m sure they are still shook up over it now 10 years later.

  7. Robert Cone

    Martha and John displayed excellent pilot skills, regardless of who the pilot was; aviate, navigate, and communicate. Address the crisis first and finally communicate. We should all learn from this.

  8. Stinson Bob

    My initial knee jerk reaction was one of outrage, but after further thought and analyses I concluded this obviously should never have happened, but it did, so it falls into the category of “life is not fair”; “stuff happens”; and “bad things happen to good people.” So what is the takeaway? My opinion is that the lesson learned is that whenever a law enforcement officer points a firearm at you or a loved one you do exactly 100% as instructed, shelve the immediate outrage at the wrongdoing and be sure to live through the event to deal with your anger and the injustice at a later time when there are no firearms and there is no potential for physical harm to you. John and Martha had the wisdom to let “this should be interesting “ event play out by acting and doing exactly what they did do. Now they are free and safe to write about it, to undertake efforts to get EPIC to clean up its data base, to advocate for better education of law enforcement officers about airplane matters, to sue in a court of law, or to do whatever and however they desire to deal with the entire unfortunate event which was not of their making. It is better to have suffered the injustice and address it later, than to have responded in the moment with confrontational outrage and ended up being “dead right.” Thanks for more good education John and Martha.

  9. Wally Metrich

    If you were black, it would be national news going around the world at how racist America and cops are. But because you are white…the media is like “go F yourself, we dont care you racist pig. You deserve it”

      • paul

        Instead of repeating the narrative you should look at the facts and you will know you are wrong. Next question would be why are they lying to you about the facts.

      • Walter

        Every weekend in Chicago at least 50 people are shot, the majority is one black person shooting another black person or multiple black people.
        It’s the system is equally fair, then how come their trials are not televised? How come a black man can shoot three or four children on the age of six years old in broad daylight in Chicago and his life is not ruined by the media? How come he doesn’t get death threats? How come Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are not making comments on twitter about how horrible it is that a black man has just shot three children under the age of six years old and his trial is not going to be televised?
        The media complains endlessly about how unfair things are to black people but on the flipside, Black people can commit crimes and everyone looks the other way for fear of offending the black race. George Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin and his life was ruined forever. At the same time one white man known as George Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin, hundreds and hundreds of black people shot other white people and other black people in the media could not care less.
        I’m not looking to start an argument here but I live in Chicago and every weekend 60 people are shot and many our children and many die but I do not see the same level of outrage by NBA stars or NFL stars at how unfair was that a six-year-old kid eating Cheerios on his front porch minding his own business was shot in the head 5 times by a gang member, Or how that same black man who shot the kid on his front porch eating Cheerios went on to shoot three or four other people five minutes later and yet the media and many people in society looked the other way and just figure, given the break, he’s a black man, they’ve had it hard for many years etc. etc.

    • LD Jones

      When 14% of the population is involved in 70% of the violent crimes stereotypes do develop. Let’s fix the underlying problem, not the symptom of the problem.

  10. Jeff James

    Before I read the entire article, I assumed John and Martha were being arrested for John’s corny jokes in their video content, do border on being criminally bad.

  11. Luca Papini

    I am so sorry you had to go through this. Especially seeing a loved one being held at a gunpoint without reason must be terrifying. This is not who we are as a Nation, and you are right: they could have observed you, investigate your moves before pointing a gun… who allowed this to happen on an airport ground? Someone must have given the OK for this to happen. Knowing airport security, rules, and regulations is not that this was an easy thing to happen… We need lots more of Inspectors Columbo and much fewer Rambos!

  12. Skymedic

    OMG what is wrong with all of you. This is why there are race riots in the streets looting, shootings and stabbings. Stay ahead of your airplane and use your own brain instead of listening to the media whose job it is to but their paper or watch their broadcast.
    How many times do we see a plane crash and all you see is the media come out with assumptions without knowing anything about the incident or aviation for that matter.
    Nobody said anything about race yet it becomes an issue in this discussion.
    I question the reason why an incident 11 years ago came out today.
    Do you know how many illegal drugs are brought into this country in stolen aircraft every year?
    Do you think these people aren’t carrying guns.
    Take the time to think what is going through the Police officers mind.
    These are civil servants who chose a life to put themselves in harms way to protect you and your family.
    Yes there is always a bad apple in every profession, the police are there to help and get very little credit.
    99% if the incidents that occur, occur because the person did not comply with the lawful order the police were instructing. If you want to get on the news, then resist arrest, assault, or pull a gun or don’t listen to a police officers instructions.
    John and Martha did the right thing they had no idea what was happening, they listened to a lawful order and had a good outcome.
    Yes police like the military follow orders. They have bosses above them.
    Every police officer I know would love never to have to pull out their gun their entire career.
    At the end of the day like you, they just want to get home to their families

    • Austin

      Statistically a police officer is more likely to win the lottery than be killed on duty (FBI stat’s). That said, even one is too many. Your racist anti-immigrant rant really added nothing to to the conversation though. You just hopped on the same bandwagon you rail against with no valuable suggestions. Perhaps you should ask yourself what have you done to help eliminate the problem of miss identified aircraft or trigger happy cops? Nothing? Anything?

      • Tom

        That statement is demonstrably false. The odds of winning a lottery are easily one in several million, depending on which lottery we’re talking about. Since there are roughly 700,000 cops in the US, and well over a 100 are killed each year, public school math says that the odds of dying are much higher.

        • Carey Roberts

          I was about to say the same thing. The ratio is about 1.6:1,000 people and as you stated with, lets just say, 100 law enforcement line of duty deaths I wish that lie were true, that cops have a better chance of winning the lottery. Plus “Austin” said the OP said something that was racist and anti-immigrant??? I mean who are illegally crossing the border, lawful US citizens?? Do illegals not bring drugs and carry guns into the country? Did the OP state they all do?? Austin sounds like either he’s from Austin that got triggered (Austin, I think is the most PrOgReSsIvE city in TX) or just another snowflake full of fake outrage and is offended for others.

  13. Jared

    1. Bad data in the wrong database can have deadly consequences. Anyone with a legit registration should have the right to purge their registration from this database.

    2. Bad incentives for the wrong people in power can have deadly consequences. If EPIC knows this database is shit, they should stop using it. If they don’t, one can conclude that the resulting abuses of power are considered a feature rather than a bug.

    3. Take a look at today’s top Google News stories. Rittenhouse trial. Charlottesville trial. Race is a factor in the United States whether you want to acknowledge it or not. I’m glad John and Martha, elder states-persons and heroes of aviation both, survived this pointless brush with death. In the subsequent 10+ years, many many others have not. If this kind of thing happens to you, and you survive, file a complaint and follow up.

      • Tracy

        Being white helped to de-escalate the situation. Had those cops seen two black people getting out of the plane the situation would have been far worse. Get your head out of the sand.

        • Carey Roberts

          Re-read it please before making ignorant remarks about what would have happened “if”. They had guns pointed at their heads for cryin out loud! what you just said is basically if they were non whites, they would have been executed. SMH. It never should have happened the way it did, but perceptions aren’t always accurate.

  14. Captain Dan

    First domino is that EPIC is ripe with this type of dumbassery. The genius at EPIC who apparently has zero experience with GA, or aviation in general, created the entire situation and should be held accountable. As someone noted above, a simple 60-second N-number search would have avoided the entire situation. Same as in a crash investigation, what were the events leading up to the crash/incident??? It all starts somewhere. In this case, very clearly, it was EPIC.

    • Jevans

      Epic? How about a law enforcement agency? THEY are the ones most culpable and they consciously did this based on flawed intel. I say SUE both businesses

  15. MASSIMO Casini

    These things happen only in USA or in some third Word Countries.
    In Europe never Police act in so terrible way.
    Here if a policeman use a weapon agains someone disarmed go immediately to the Court and for sure his career is finished.

  16. Mark F

    John and Martha, you have set an excellent example for how best to deal with an unexpected and potentially dangerous situation. Nobody should ever have to see guns pointed at their loved ones. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. The breakdown of respect between the citizenry and law enforcement in this country continues to create these unfortunate situations. We all have a role to play in maintaining a polite society, and I personally appreciate the way you have dealt with this with dignity and a sense of humor. Your response seems appropriate and I hope the authorities recognize that changes need to be made.

    • Richard G

      You have the same nervous laugh that I have. People think you are laughing at the situation when you are so nervous you don’t know what else to do. I had this happen to me almost 40 years ago. The police were ready to open fire on us and we had no idea if they were even police. They didn’t say they were police and were in plain clothes. We thought we were being robbed and ducked down. I’m alive just by luck.

  17. Donald Columbo

    There is no perfect system. This is certainly not a pleasant experience. As long as they complied with police, there was no eminent danger. The article seems to lean on entitlement. We have these authorities in place to provide protection. Sometimes, and this is life, things get miscommunicated. The article gives me the impression that guns didn’t need to be drawn. Try taking in plane thieves with baby rattles and, when the situation is real, we’ll have dead police and I recovered planes.

      • B. B. Stanfield

        No, not entitlement. Basic common sense. I worked for Customs later it was CBP, in the Air and Marine division. having been a civilian pilot long before I recognize the fundamental differences and unfortunately most law enforcement are totally clueless where it comes to aviation in general, and specifically general/business aviation.

        That said, I spent a LOT of time trying to get the folks doing ramp checks and so forth to understand what exactly was going on, why and how to best handle any related situations. Unfortunately two of my coworkers actually did do some things to a fellow coworker who also had his own airplane, totally illegal, w/o his presence, etc., etc. When they were confronted they saw no problem with it as they were “law enforcement’ and entitled. If you want to talk to entitlement, it cuts both ways. These guys only got a slap on the hand and later promotions for being so aggressive, regardless. The airplane and coworker targeted is now retired and very intolerant of such behavior. He will defend himself legally and is not shy about telling his story. The problem with that is it does not help improve the situation for others. The best it can do is raise awareness. Had these two yahoos not done what they did and gone about everything according to Hoyle, it would have easily been a very good, learning experience for all concerned.

        To this day I am concerned one of these guys whom I don’t know will do something similar and things wind up going badly. I carry my retired credentials and have ensured my paperwork is in order.

        Oh, and the guy that was “checked” inappropriately, was notified he owed ramp fees for some period in California based simply on his tail number. The FBO or airport authority or whomever, did not check the FAA database. As in the case of the Kings, a simple bit of knowledge about how to determine the validity of tail numbers and registration would make things a lot easier, safer and less costly all around.

        The original airplane with that tail number he’s accused of not paying fees for, has actually been sitting on that ramp for probably 20 years. Now tell me where common sense is applied here? They simply looked up the address for the tail number and sent a bill. They’re not interested in accuracy, just the money they feel they’re owed. I would instead push back and wonder why they are just now concerned? Maybe that tail number suddenly popped up somewhere, they want to clean off the ramp of dead and abandoned airplanes, or something similar? Who knows, but a minor thing like unpaid fees is a LOT different than pointing guns unnecessarily at people who should be addressed professionally. I am very familiar with EPIC and won’t comment publicly, but suffice that any law enforcement agency should, acting professionally, do as Mr. King suggested, and not simply take the word of a “private” entity. Obviously they knew the source but were not forthcoming. Secrecy is never good ultimately and communication is key.

    • Sven

      You’re missing the point completely. Kneejerk reactions based on unconfirmed allegations and the failure to perform simple homework that could have easily avoided such a dangerous mess are not justified by not having perfect systems. Have you never heard of the basic principle of “in dubio pro reo”..?

    • Chris Gustaf

      I have been around Guns my entire life and there are a few basic principals that police seem to have forgotten. You never pull a gun bless you intend to use it. And you never pull a gun unless you are darn sure the person you are pointing it at is a direct threat. That means using discretion and police now use policy as that discretion. Police are here to pretext and serve. That means protecting everyone including a “suspect” where there is not clear proof of a crime. An older (sorry John and Martha) couple in a 172 does not fit any of those things. Guns holstered as long as they are complying. Once you see the situation handcuffs in the back of squad car is probably not needed either. I ask everyone to use some common sense and discipline. Police often have a terrible job but it is the job and they are at risk everyday. John and Martha and many others did not sign up for that job and should not have to accept that risk. Police are here to keep us safe, not the other way around. While we do what we can to help them if they are trained and over reacting to a situation how should they expect people that are not trained to act?

  18. Richard Weil

    There are a lot of good people in governments who want to do the right thing. Unfortunately there are also a lot who enjoy their little bit of power. Systemic changes would help limit things–as written the drug laws benefit the police (forfeitures, money for weapons, etc.) and the prison industry while doing nothing to deal with the root problems. The TSA is an excellent example of mission creep and there are so many large overlapping agencies in the “military-indusitral-security industry” that nobody can keep their powers straight. And good luck on getting off a no fly list…there are many, riddled with errors and completely uncoordinated. Sadly at this point trying to reform things would be as hard as it always is with bureaucracies which exist to serve themselves. Eventually the system could collapse under its own weight, and the good they do swept away with the bad. Meanwhile keep making a stink, silence is assent.

  19. Tom Costanza

    If I remember correctly, John & Martha did not file any complaints about the way this was handled. When people in authority can intentionally or unintentionally abuse that authority, and there is no or else, those in authority are less inclined to pay any attention to the most rudimentary safeguards.

    So what if the plane was stolen! There was no imminent risk to ANYONE or anything. If a private citizen were to point a gun at someone where there was no risk, that alone would land them in court.

    Police have adopted a mind-set of shoot first and ask questions later. It has to stop.

    Everyone have a great holiday!

    • James

      That’s simply not true, as a quick glance at FBI statistics will show.

      The actual truth is the reverse: people of color are actually at lower risk of being shot by law enforcement.

      Don’t take my word for it. Go look at the actual statistics instead of a false narrative.

      • Tracy

        Just looking at statistics is not adequate. You have to look at the PROPORTION of POC who are shot and killed by police comparison to white people. I’ve found the Fox News, super honky part of the internet it would seem.

  20. A.J. Ursic, Jr.

    Although everyone’s comments re the cops reaction may be valid, well… some of ’em, I think the route of the problem has been missed: it lies with the FAA. After all, the cops wouldn’t have been “alerted” if the aircraft had not been reported as “stolen,” — TWICE! During my flying career, I can recall two events that involved the police and other authorities: [1] A friend of mine was restoring a P-51 for a customer. The customer refused to pay a small invoice for parts. The customer hired a pilot to fly the Mustang from Chino to Santa Monica. Being alerted that the aircraft was taxiing to take off from Chino, my friend drove his car onto the taxiway in front of the P-51 in an effort to stop the aircraft. Admittedly, a serious and most dangerous act. However, he fully expected the pilot to stop, who wouldn’t? But, no. the pilot continues his taxi and sliced up the rear of my friend’s car. When I saw it, I was amazed. As the rear window was being shattered, he drove the car off the taxiway. Incredibly, the pilot took off. After landing at his destination and completing his taxi, he was met by the local police, the FAA, the FBI, and a few others. I don’t believe guns were involved. Perhaps by the shear numbers of “officials” surrounding him, he gave up peacefully. [2] During the Nixon administration, a pilot visiting from the east rented an aircraft and while attempting to impress his lady friend, flew very low along the coast from San Diego northward. Well, the presidential party was on the beach and the pilot flew right by the West Coast “White House.” Arriving at Palm Springs he was told to remain on the runway at which time he was accompanied by four helicopter gun ships. Guns?? You betcha! All I’m attempting to do here, with my very small contribution, is to illustrate, in both cases, the “perp” was clearly identified and the actions of the authorities was justified. With the Kings, there was an abundance of “assumptions.” Clearly inviting a dangerous and potentially harmful conclusion, especially for the innocent. The procedures for recordkeeping re stolen aircraft and their resolutions clearly needs attention. Tailwinds and following seas, Godspeed, be well, ~~~A.J.

  21. P K

    It’s unfortunate what happened to your neighbor kid but teach that poor mom to always comply with the cop. She could’ve avoided her sons death if she had complied.

    I’ll tell you a story that happened in Davis CA. A 20-something female cop was responding to a domestic dispute between husband and wife. She thought she didn’t have to had “gun being pointed at someone’s head”

    The husband shot her and she died. Officer down.

    I wish you that the husband had had a chance to read your article and not have his “gun pointed at the cop’s head.”

  22. Duane Draughon

    I am a black pilot and stuff like this scares the shit out of me. I’m just keeping it real.
    Most of these little airports that we fly in or small and deep in the country.

  23. Don smith

    This just shows the incompetency of the legal system at all levels. I have been in situations similar as a motorcycle rider and it makes you very questionable if the stupid cops with the guns who are planking at your head know what the hell they’re doing. Law enforcement is necessary but I got it they got to get their guns out of their ass and use common sense or get another job

    • James Brown

      I fully agree! John and Martha need to see a lawyer to talk about a legal action for damages against the governmental entities involved. This seems an especially strong case of negligence since the same plane had already been involved in a similar incident, and the records had not been corrected. My sympathy goes out to these two wonderful people who had to watch their spouse ordered out of their own plane, at gunpoint, and then handcuffed. To say nothing of the individual fear and humiliation this must have caused. Take care John and Martha.

  24. Don


    So glad that neither of you were hurt in this very unfortunate, and unnecessary, incident. Thanks for sharing so that we are all alert that this can happen, I may not have believed it coming from someone else.

  25. Scott Cochran

    The underlying problem is that that we live in a country full of guns. That’s why police are so jumpy and so much innocent blood is shed.

  26. Andrew

    Classic situation of untrained LEO escalating a situation, threatening deadly force for no factually accurate reason, looking like complete morons and later rationalizing their brazen and inappropriate actions with excuses.
    Imagine if you had defended yourself as a factually innocent person?

    These officers give the good guys a horrible name and reputation.

  27. David Cheung

    @John and @Martha, You had reacted professionally and graciously. Glad to know that John and Martha are safe and sound. Kept calm and you did great in this kind of situation.

  28. Jim Mezo

    What an unfortuinate situation for the Kings. I am glad they had an SOP to fall back on. I was always under the impression that only the FAA could enforce FAA regulations any other law enforcement entity had no authority. Does anyone know the correct answer to this issue?

    • Jeffrey S Torsrud

      No, unfortunately the FAA is NOT the final authority!

      I worked at EL PASO Tower and Approach Control as an Air Traffic Controller.

      EL PASO, TX has a HUGE contingent of Law Enforcement, From Border Patrol to DEA, FBI, Local Police and agencies most people have never heard of.

      There were several times I would be working in the tower and someone would land on our runway, and followed close in by a DEA King AIRE, No radio call or anything, just landed behind this small plane and followed them to the FBO and had them out of the aircraft weapons drawn!

      Federal Law enforcement can do pretty much anything now days! And if they are wrong, don’t expect an explanation or apology! Arrogance at the highest order!

      Nothing new with the way our Federal Government does Not correct things or coordinate with other Law Enforcement agencies.

  29. John Salem

    As a corporate pilot, I used a customs facility that wasn’t my normal one, as it was on my way to pick up an employee in Virginia. I filed FP , file EApis , and called ahead, as required. As my copilot and I landed, we were directed to customs, where we were forced to wait in the aircraft, C425. After nearly an hour, sweating a lot, CBP finally came out, accused me of being high on drugs since I was sweating, separated me from my copilot, took me into terminal and with around 20 agents, and police kept accusing me of being on drugs. After each accusation I offered to take a drug test, which they refused. Finally they brought my copilot back, and he informed me they had him removing panels from the airplane outside. I kept my cool and tried to be cooperative and they finally released us. Weeks later I received a letter from FAA demanding I get drug tested within 24 hours, which I did. I included the test results one (neg), my cell phone logs showing I had called , my EApis filing, and my flight plan, along w communication logs w ATC. So in the end there were no charges and I never will go to that Florida city customs again.

    • Dana Hodgkin

      What was the city in Florida? We won’t use that city either for clearing customs either. We’ve cleared in Marathon, Ft. Pierce, Daytona Beach, and St. Augustine on repeated occasions and the agents have always been very professional. Sorry to hear of your experience.

  30. Walter Kedjetia

    Hmmm, I can just imagine what would have happened, if you, John and Martha were a little darker in skin complexion…Yeah… But hey, all I can say is sorry, the Policing systems is full of folks who are so quick to pull guns first than escalating issues with humanity and caution… The FAA needs to make better reforms that put pilots and plane owners safer and registry databases current as they should be. And then yet again 5.0 will pull guns and handcuffs first and then check things out later. Ironic right?

      • Nick Caplover

        Walter is merely making an appropriate comment that is relevant to the context…and since it offends your thin skin so deeply then you must know there is some truth in it.

      • PM

        Your comment emphasizes what Walter was insinuating. If you have never seen what he is implying, take your head out of your righteous @ss and look around anywhere.

        You have your 2024 bumper stickers ready… “Make Hate Great Again”

      • Don

        Was that really necessary? My bet is that you are of the fairer completion and do not understand the unnecessary policing that minorities often receive. A person does not have to be a “leftist anti-cop loser” to question the tactics used. I served 35 years in the military, and my spouse was a police officer for over 10 years. We both agree that police sometimes abuse their authority and often are biased in their judgment. Does that make us “leftist anti-cop losers also?” You really should apologize.

        • K-bird

          Agree with many comments above:
          This should never have happened,
          another example of law enforcement overreach and ineptitude (their job is to serve and protect the public, not threaten and harass);
          Wouldn’t be surprised if they had tried to keep the plane (millions of dollars worth of property has been confiscated improperly by law enforcement);
          Outcome could have been way worse if the pilots had been brown or black (that is just the sad fact that all of us with pigment live with).


    Glad you both are OK. You handled the situation with the calmness and self discipline of experienced pilots. Suppose that you had a passenger who became panicky…that could easily have gotten them shot by the police. That’s just not right…especially since it was their error to have detained you in the 1st place. Just sayin’…

  32. Don R. Windle

    The almost total absence of knowledge in most law enforcement agencies and unrestricted use of databases without any requirement that the user know how to understand the information in the database or the gaps or issues in it led to this unpleasant and very risky encounter.
    I too have completed many KING courses including a current one for CFII. The Kings are certainly icons but no pilot should be subjected to the described level of risk regardless of position or status.

  33. Kim

    The police have become agents of the state. If you think otherwise you’re a fool. They’ll follow orders to the death. Any idiot that still backs the blue deserves whatever happens to them. The last 2 years have proven that ALL cops will follow orders no matter what. Screw the blue.

    • Jason

      As a pilot and a police officer, I can assure you your statement is wrong. It appears you have already made up mind so I won’t try to convince you otherwise. I, as well as every other officer I know, have your rights, and everyone’s safety in mind. It’s not until we are threatened with harm ourself, will we react with violence. Please try to not always believe what you see and hear on the news until you see both sides from outside the box before you cry foul. While John & Martha’s experience is rare, I agree whomever was in charge that day allowed it to progress further than necessary.

      God bless and have a good day.

      • Paul

        I too am a pilot and a police officer and agree totally with Jason. Your response is typical of one who is predisposed to not think for themselves so no further attempt to change your mind will be forthcoming. I have offered an airport familiarity evening to any law enforcement, fire fighter, and EMT, interested in learning about aircraft and airport operations. A lot of interest!

      • Everyone

        Oh, and Paul, too.

        I’m a White affluent lawyer and ACAB tackled me and arrested me during the middle of covid. Violated emergency orders from their own little Chief Dictator in so doing. Prosecutor dropped in two days.

        Turns out the ACAB who arrested me has multiple arrests and convictions for assault battery and disorderly conduct.

        No LEO are good LEO.

    • Fred

      YOU are as much of a problem as they overwhelming FEW jackasses in law enforcement. What an ignorant statement to make. “All blacks are criminals.” “All Muslims are terrorists.” “All police officers are bad.”

      The only ALL here is ignorance in every statement. Starting with yours.

      • Everyone

        Take a representative sample of the comments on this board. Are they overwhelmingly positive with their ACAB interactions or negative?

        Overwhelmingly negative: ranging from stupid LEO to murdering LEO, to partially illiterate LEO.


  34. Albert Davidson

    I have been treated aggressively by police twice at my own house. I also applied the same SOP and then called them on the phone the next day. I was able to fully explain my frustrations at that point. I know they have a tough job and they often deal with ill intentioned people. I wouldn’t want their job and I want to respect and promote law and order. Most cops are good people in a difficult situation. There are always the bad apples and even the good ones can make bad mistakes. I am currently enjoying your full CFI courses. Thanks for sharing as good citizens. Happy skies to all!

  35. Sonny Madden

    John and Martha,
    Twice in S. Florida I had guns drawn on me, while a Corporate pilot. First time as I was flying alone and landed at Ft. Lauderdale Executive airport, at our hanger late at night after dropping my boss off in Georgia, I was surrounded by Cops, who wanted my License #, and wouldn’t let me get it out of my pocket, so I told them my FAA #, and one cop said it was short #’s. as he pointed his gun at my head. I asked him if he knew how the FAA did #’s. he was only familiar with SS#’s instead of FAA #’s. Another time , we were doing ILS approaches at West Palm Beach as I was teaching a friend instrument flying in a Twin engine airplane and as we were flying back to Pompano Beach, we had the landing lights on as I always did below 10,000 FT. Someone called about a plane flying low, at 1,500ft and the cops met us with guns drawn when we landed. They had us exit the airplane the same way as you and I had Passengers on board who they scared the S**t out of. They took all the Info. from my Student, who was in the left seat but never asked who was the Pilot in Command which was me. If cops want to intercept AC, they should be trained the proper way to act and what to look for.

  36. Randall Alford

    So glad you two came out of this ok. Yet I find it appalling that so much power and leniency is given to agencies that have no common sense or intelligence, are given a golden ticket to commit horrible acts, and are never held liable for their actions. This needs to change.

  37. Raul Ramirez

    How life can be nothing due a little mistake from the police, from flying nicely to the morgue or jail. Then you have to spend your savings.

    Thank god all is ok

  38. Timothy Leeny

    So, as I take it, you can be detained again since the records are never updated? That means anyone with malicious intentions can report N50545 again as stolen! You could be detained again!!! I think if it was me, I would sell that plane!

  39. Richard Pritzlaff

    I believe you should file a complaint because, as you say, the police are more willing to put people at risk than to do any due diligence to better understand the situation. Laziness is no excuse for initiating a potentially lethal situation…as pilots we know this very well. Whatever happened to “To protect and to serve”?

    • Isaac

      This is another example of over-reaction and excessive use of force by law enforcement. It exemplifies a lack of proper training and procedure. There have many incidents of harm and fatalities due to this type of bravado behavior.

  40. Rev. Lowell K. Smith

    Thank you for writing this. I NEVER trust a COP with a gun. They are all trigger happy and are seldom held responsible for their actions yet if I or anyone else were to act like cops do I would be arrested. The Santa Barbara Police owe you two more than an appology — Personally !

  41. Scott Cassell

    Kalifornia… home of the dumbest society on earth that are fully convinced they are they smartest. I’m closing my business due to things like this and moving to Florida.

    • Leonard Malkin

      It seems there are at least two lessons to be learned here. First, often, when police officers are accused of unwarranted actions against innocent citizens, they claim, either in a court room or just as a comment to the media, that they were just doing something “by the book.” They’re often quite right and have been cleared of malfeasance by this simple statement. So one problem is “the book”. We need to look at established procedures to make sure they make sense (see below).
      Second, often the police do not superimpose common sense on the “book”. I think both things happened here.
      Let me point to an episode recorded on somebody’s cell phone that happened not too long ago. Several police officers had incorrectly identified as a stolen car a minivan in a mall parking lot. The occupants were a mother and two young children, one a daughter about 4 years old. The police approached the minivan on foot with guns drawn and pointed at the van. The mother was terrified and hysterical and had to be pulled out of the van as were the children. The sight of the 4 year old forced to lay flat on the pavement and crying hysterically, is a sight I have not forgotten.
      Why were their guns drawn? Because the “book” says a 4000 pound car can be used as a lethal weapon and so extreme caution was called for. Fair enough but it also supposed that the van could’ve been used that way by accelerating against the police while in fact it was hemmed in by police cars and other cars parked in the mall parking lot and could not have moved. So even though the “book” made sense as a way to protect the police from possible harm, here’s a situation a where a lack of common sense almost led to a serious, possibly lethal, situation. How do you teach common sense to people, especially ones with guns. I don’t know. Perhaps a simulator of sorts.

    • A-Brown-Pilot-CFII


      I think your comment illustrates a very valid opinion that reflects the perspective many of us pilots have. While we don’t know exactly how they would’ve ended up should they have been of non-Caucasian descent, I certainly feel it played a role in how they were treated. To pretend that officers will never choose to treat someone differently based on race is naïve, or worse ignorant, in this day and age.

      Thank you very much for sharing your opinion.

  42. A-Brown-Pilot-CFII


    I think your comment illustrates a very valid opinion that reflects the perspective many of us pilots have. While we don’t know exactly how they would’ve ended up should they have been of non-Caucasian descent, I certainly feel it played a role in how they were treated. To pretend that officers will never choose to treat someone differently based on race is naïve, or worse ignorant, in this day and age.

    Thank you very much for sharing your opinion.

  43. Dennis Smith

    I”m glad everything ended well. I am a safer pilot because of your school and have watched almost all of your videos.

    Thank you for all you have done for aviation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts