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Make A Joke, Go To Jail Nation’s Airports Are Zealously Enforcing Zero-Tolerance Policy For Bomb Humor

Wed., Aug. 14, 1996

“Here’s where I put the bomb,” a Venezuelan doctor joked Monday as an Avensa Airlines ticket agent checked his baggage.

Funny thing: The agent didn’t laugh. Instead, the airline supervisor called police.

Seems Metro-Dade airport police officers didn’t think much of Ernesto F. Ramos-Martinez’s comedy either. They arrested and charged the 41-year-old physician with making a false bomb report.

Now the doctor is facing a second-degree felony - which by Florida law carries up to 15 years in jail and $10,000 in fines. That charge sticks even though bomb-sniffing dogs found nothing, and even though police think Ramos-Martinez made the comment in jest.

“That’s not the kind of thing I would want to joke about,” said Frank Gilday, a sergeant at Metro-Dade’s airport station. “If you make the same comment at 7-Eleven, it’s not going to have a huge impact. Make the same statement at an airport with unprecedented levels of heightened security, expect some type of response.”

Like handcuffs.

Metro-Dade police say that since the b-word has been on everyone’s lips after the Olympics and the crash of TWA Flight 800, people have taken to making cracks about explosives. And getting arrested.

When ticket agents ask passengers whether anyone has given them anything to carry aboard, Gilday has heard the answer: “Just plastic explosives.”

Guards who stop people whose baggage looks suspicious in the X-ray machine sometimes hear: “That must be my pipe bomb.”

What people don’t know is that it does not matter if you do not have a bomb and obviously were kidding. Make a crack about having a bomb, and expect to be arrested. Period. It has happened twice this month at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where officers are on edge since a Paris-bound flight crashed July 17.

“We make the collar,” said Robert Iannitto, a JFK Port Authority officer. “When they’re arrested, people are surprised and feel stupid. If they were joking, that’s something they can explain to the magistrate.”

At least five people have been arrested this year at Miami International.

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