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The U.S. Department of Justice has hired two Zuckerman Spaeder lawyers in Miami to represent the federal air marshals who last week shot and killed a mentally ill Orlando man who allegedly said he had a bomb aboard a plane at Miami International Airport. But legal experts don’t expect any criminal charges to be filed against the two air marshals. “Law enforcement traditionally has been supported when they use deadly force based on their belief that someone has a weapon,” said Brian L. Tannebaum, president of the South Florida chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “No charges will be filed — you can put all your money on that.” Partner Michael Pasano and associate Paul Calli were hired to represent the marshals — whose identities have not been publicly disclosed — in the Miami-Dade police and Miami-Dade state attorney’s office inquest. Pasano said they probably also would represent the marshals in any civil suit filed by the family of the dead man, which is considered likely. Miami-Dade homicide investigators have interviewed witnesses to the Dec. 7 shooting, which occurred on a jetway leading to an American Airlines plane at Miami International Airport. Investigators have completed their investigation and are awaiting a final report from the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office, said police spokesman Roy Rutland. “We’re just standing by,” Rutland said. “We should be done in a week or two. Police then will send their report to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, which will make a determination whether the marshals used justifiable force — or whether to file charges against the air marshals. The Justice Department cannot represent its own employees in emergency situations due to conflicts, so it calls on private lawyers to take the cases. Pasano, who heads the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association, said he was unsure how he came to be called by the Justice Department. “I guess they have a list of good lawyers somewhere that they call in such cases,” he said. Some lawyers, he noted, won’t take these cases because the government pays “extremely low” fees. According to the Miami-Dade Police Department, the air marshals say they shot Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Costa Rica, after he exited the plane. Alpizar was on the jetway with a backpack strapped to his chest, yelling that he had a bomb, according to the marshals’ account. It was the first time that a U.S. air marshal fired a weapon at a passenger. Some passengers on the plane disputed the marshals’ story, saying Alpizar never said he had a bomb. Alpizar’s wife, Anne Buechner, who was on the plane when her husband was shot, said he suffered from bipolar disorder. Calli said, however, that “I’m confident it will be determined [the air marshals] acted reasonably and appropriately under the circumstances.” He declined to reveal the identities of the air marshals or whether they live in South Florida, citing national security concerns. Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Miami, agreed. “It appears the marshals were acting in accordance with protocol and training,” he said. “It’s a truly difficult situation where you can look at it from both sides. They had to make a split-second decision.” If a civil suit is filed by the family, it would likely be against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging the officers were negligent in their duties, Marshall said. A direct constitutional claim against the individual officers alleging they violated the victim’s constitutional rights by using excessive force would be “a much harder claim to bring” and less likely, he said. “It’s a tragedy,” Pasano said. “The marshals are coping. They believe they followed all the correct procedures. We’re praying that everyone reaches the same conclusion.”

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