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Security Scare as Gyroscope Lands at U.S. Capitol; Iraqi Official: Key City May Fall to ISIS; Shocking Video Intensified Debate over Dash Cams; TSA Officers Fired for Plot to Grope Passengers. Aired 5-6:00p ET

Aired April 15, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, security scare. A pilot penetrates restricted airspace and lands a gyrocopter on the U.S. Capitol grounds, and that leads to a chaotic lockdown, raising serious new questions about the vulnerability of sensitive U.S. government buildings.

Under siege. ISIS surrounds a major Iraqi city. Civilians flee in panic. Iraqi troops may not be able to hold on. One official says the city may already be lost. CNN goes to the front lines of this battle. We'll have an exclusive report.

Dash cam controversy. The high-speed ramming of an Arizona suspect raising new questions about police tactics and adding to a debate over police cameras. Do they help or hurt law enforcement?

And airport groping scandal. Two TSA officers are out of a job for allegedly subjecting attractive male passengers to sensitive pat- downs.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, a big security scare leads to chaos at the U.S. Capitol. A man is in custody now after penetrating restricted airspace over the heart of Washington and landing a mini aircraft, known as a gyrocopter on the Capitol grounds.

This video, captured by a bystander, shows the landing, initially without a security officer in sight. And that briefly threw the U.S. Capitol area into a lockdown as police rushed to deal with a possible threat. The pilot, a mailman from Florida, is now under investigation.

A friend says he planned the flight to send a message about campaign finance reform. But the stunt is raising bigger questions about the security of important sites right here in the nation's capital. The incident happened even as lawmakers met with the Iraqi prime minister inside the Capitol.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by for full coverage. Let's begin with the very latest. Tom Foreman has that -- Tom.


It is now clear from a video that was collected by "The Tampa Bay Times" that this man planned this for a long time, and he let a lot of people know what he was up to, that this was no surprise and he didn't want it to be a surprise. And yet, he was able to fly through perhaps more than two hours through what is supposed to be some of the most heavily guarded airspace in America.


DOUG HUGHES, PILOTS: I'm not suicidal, and I'm not going to commit suicide. And I'm not going to fly into any monuments.

Terrorists don't announce their flights before they take off. OK? Terrorists don't broadcast their flight path. Terrorists don't invite an escort to go along with them.

FOREMAN: Those words were from an extensive video from "The Tampa Bay Times" about the suspected 61-year-old pilot well before his flight that ended amid confusion, alarm and drawn guns on the Capitol lawn.

Nora Nous saw the single-seat aircraft approach.

NORA NOUS, WITNESS: It flew straight toward us on the west face of the Capitol building, landed on the lawn, bounced once and then sat sit. The man sat still, sat in his chair. And then one cop came down and started trying to figure out what was happening. Another one came down, and within about 30 seconds, there were dozens of police cars, a large number of men with rifles and snipers running toward the man, yelling, "Don't move. Don't move."

FOREMAN: Nous says nearby security forces seemed unaware of the craft until it touched down and yet Hughes, in the video and on his website, says he informed a good many others, including the president, of his specific intentions before he took off more than an hour outside of D.C.'s protected airspace.

HUGHES: I'm going to violate the no-fly zone, nonviolently and for nobody to get hurt, and I'm going to land on the Capitol Mall in front of the Capitol building. I'm going to have 535 letters strapped to the landing gear in boxes, and those letters are going to be addressed to every member of Congress.

FOREMAN: The final moments were captured in this extraordinary video obtained exclusively by the Associated Press. Hughes' website says he was prompted to take this dramatic action following the suicide of his son over unrelated matters. The website further says the pilot worked on this attention-grabbing protest for well over two years. And in that time, he bought his aircraft, learned to fly it and plotted his path toward a daring dive at the Capitol.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: Wolf, if it is true that he took off an hour outside of

protected airspace, that means whichever direction he came from -- and it's still not clear -- he flew for somewhere around two hours through airspace where everything is supposed to be tracked.

[17:05:10] If that is the case, Wolf, then that raises really serious questions, because he's only traveling, like, 25 miles an hour. He had all this information out there for people to know what was going on. He had been talked to previously by the Secret Service. There seemed to be a lot of ways that people would know about this.

And he himself says that he thought for sure that, before he got to this area, he would be followed by some kind of a helicopter or tracked in some fashion. He feared that maybe he would be shot down before he reached here. As he put it, "A Boy Scout with a B.B. gun could take me out of the sky." And yet, Wolf, in all of this protected space, he seems not to have encountered even that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds like a major, major blunder occurred. We're going to dig deeper on this. Tom Foreman, thanks very much. How did this aircraft manage to penetrate the restricted zone at the center of the nation's capital, especially in these years following 9/11?

Let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, this happened in some of the most hypersensitive airspace, not only in the United States but in the world. Was the FAA aware this was going to happen?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that I just got off the phone with the FAA and asked that very question. And they will not comment as to whether they knew that this man was planning this flight and planning to do what he did, and actually, it happened just right over my shoulder. If you see that green space, that is where that gyrocopter landed.

But again, FAA mum on whether they knew this was going to happen before it actually did occur, only saying that they're investigating, Wolf.

BLITZER: So no U.S. military or local police, state aircraft were scrambled at any point to deal with this, is that right?

MARSH: Right. NORAD saying that -- and you're absolutely right on that. There were no military jets scrambled. And I spoke with NORAD about this. And they said that they didn't get notification about this event until the gyrocopter actually landed on the Capitol grounds. So there simply was not enough time for them to scramble any jets.

So it raises the question as to, you know, were they even aware that this gyrocopter was flying in this airspace? We just heard Tom Foreman talking about, perhaps it was in the air for an hour or two. But we don't know how long at this point if it was in the air. If it was in the air for two hours or so, that truly is troubling that it was able to fly and make it all the way here; and NORAD didn't know about it until it landed.

That being said, we still are waiting for these details. Because on the flip side, if it was only in the air for a short period of time, there wouldn't have been much response time for them to scramble the jets. So that detail is still a bit fuzzy at this hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: And remind us, who's in charge of keeping a close eye on this highly sensitive restricted airspace?

MARSH: Well, it's a number of parties. But we do know that the FAA is in charge of the airspace, ultimately. But you have a number of parties monitoring it.

So you have the Secret Service. You have members from DHS. You have members from Capitol Hill police, as well as the FAA. They all have radars. They're all monitoring this 24/7, around the clock, in real time.

And when someone sees something that is peculiar, they get on this conference call, so to speak, and they alert each other that something isn't quite right. And everyone then zeroes in on that aircraft, if it is in this restricted airspace. So that's usually how it works.

Once they access the threat, they make the determination, are they going to scramble jets or not? And it really depends on the kind of aircraft it is. This aircraft, for example, they wouldn't have scrambled military jets, because there's no way a military jet could slow down to the speed of this gyrocopter. So most likely they would have called on the Coast Guard to scramble their chopper. Of course, we know that didn't happen.

But that's the chain of command. That's how it works. Many eyes focusing in on this restricted airspace, because it is so hypersensitive. You have the Capitol, and the same goes for the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the fear or concern is what if on that gyrocopter there weren't just letters in that box? If there were explosives or some sort of bomb, that could have been a disaster. Clearly, that's the great concern right now, and a lot of people are investigating what exactly happened.

Rene, thanks very much.

The security breach outside the U.S. Capitol grounds that took place while the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, was inside. The building was briefly on lockdown, as were nearby streets. They were closed off.

Let's get some more on the investigation. CNN's Athena Jones was up on Capitol Hill as this unfolded. What's the latest there, Athena?

[17:10:03] ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, I can tell you it was a dramatic scene and confusing. It was several moments before it was clear that this was not going to be a threat. For a while, it wasn't clear what was going on.

I was standing outside of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee room where the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al Abadi, was in the room meeting with senators on that committee. And so of course, a leader like him is going to be surrounded by security at all times. There were a lot of officers standing outside that room, uniformed officers, as well.

And suddenly, you began to hear the familiar, distinctive crackling of the police radio. And it became clear that something was happening. Then all of a sudden, at least half a dozen of these uniformed officers rushed by us on two sides, heading towards what we now know, heading outside. We asked what was happening. And we were told that it was a helicopter that had landed on the west front of the Capitol. So as you know, of course, it ended up being this smaller aircraft, this gyrocopter. But at that moment, no one seemed to know why the person had landed there, what was going on, whether it was a threat.

And while they did not evacuate the Capitol building, as you mentioned, there was a brief lockdown. And we heard the police discussing how to get the Iraqi prime minister out of the building if they needed to evacuate him.

They talked about, of course, bringing him out the other side of the building, the east side that faces the Supreme Court building. Of course, that wasn't necessary in the end. This man was brought into custody for questioning. We are told that investigation is still going on. We know the bomb squad checked out that gyrocopter. But it was really a bizarre several minutes here at the Capitol, Wolf. And it's quite a way to send a message to Congress.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right. Thanks very much, Athena, for that report.

The gyrocopter pilot had notified the newspaper "The Tampa Bay Times" ahead of this stunt. Reporter Ben Montgomery interviewed the pilot and tracked his flight. Ben is joining us now on the phone.

Ben, have Capitol police reached out to you since all this occurred?

BEN MONTGOMERY, REPORTER, "THE TAMPA BAY TIMES" (via phone): No, not the Capitol police, but Secret Service has contacted "The Times" and asked to speak with me.

BLITZER: And what is their concern? Had you notified them in advance that this was about to happen?

MONTGOMERY; No, but they knew about it at least a year ago. They approached and questioned Doug Hughes. He had a political spat with a family member who sent the Secret Service a letter that outlined his plan, and they showed up at his house, according to him, at 1 a.m., questioning him for about 45 minutes. Came back to his work at the post office two days later, questioned him and a colleague with whom he had shared his plans. And Doug said they both seemed satisfied, and they never contacted...

BLITZER: I read your lengthy article in the Tampa Bay Times," saw the video that you guys posted. You've known about this planned flight for some time, right?

MONTGOMERY: Yes, sir. He first contacted me last summer AND -- by telephone and said, "look, I'm a nonviolent person. I'm going to commit an act of civil disobedience to try to bring attention to campaign finance reform. And in the event I get hurt or arrested, I need somebody to tell my backstory." So we had a cup of coffee, and he explained his plan. And we've sort of been in touch since then every few months.

BLITZER: I assume you were concerned, though, once he learned that he was taking off today and heading towards the U.S. Capitol, that he could be shot down and killed, right?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, yes. I mean, certainly could have happened. He was well aware of that. And he just kind of decided a long time ago that he was willing to take that risk.

He expected some kind of confrontation. He spent 2 1/2 years playing out every possible scenario. So he was well aware that somebody might try to bring him down. But he flew into this thing -- you heard it described as a helicopter. He flew into this thing practically defenseless for the purpose of being transparent, to show anybody who might confront him and try to bring him down that there's no room on this thing for any kind of explosives; there's no -- you know, there's no room for any guns or anything of that nature. It's basically a flying lawn mower that weighs about 250 pounds. So, you know, he could have been brought down by a Boy Scout with a B.B. gun.

BLITZER: He landed -- correct me if I'm wrong -- about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on the U.S. Capitol grounds. You posted the article, the video at around noon, right?

MONTGOMERY: Yes, that's when he took off. We saw wheels up. He was live-streaming the whole thing on his website. So we saw wheels up. He called me just before he went up. I couldn't understand anything he was saying, because his propeller was so loud. And so we immediately posted our story.

And one of my colleagues back in St. Petersburg called the Secret Service and the Capitol police to ask them if they knew that this guy was flying toward -- toward the Capitol. So that would have been at least 45 minutes before he came into D.C. proper.

BLITZER: And what did the Secret Service say to your newspaper?

[17:15:08] MONTGOMERY: They had no knowledge of it.

BLITZER: Did they say they were going to take action? Did they want to know the direction he was coming from? I take it he took off from some -- some airport in Virginia, in suburban Washington.

MONTGOMERY: He actually took off from an airport in the vicinity of Gettysburg. I don't know which one, but somewhere in that area. It was a about a two and a half, two hour drive, little over an hour flight time.

BLITZER: I guess the final question is did you feel you had a responsibility to really start screaming at law enforcement, Secret Service and others and say, "You know what? This is a dangerous situation. We're aware of what's going on, but we need you to stop this before someone gets hurt?" Did you feel you had a journalistic or at least a public service responsibility to do something like that?

MONTGOMERY: Look, I spent a lot of time with Doug Hughes over the past year. And he has designed this entire plan to prevent himself or anyone else from getting hurt. From the live broadcasts to the delayed e-mail alert to authorities to the openness and transparency with which he put his plan together and invited us to pay attention. This was not a guy who had a death wish. Terrorists don't announce their flight plans ahead of time and don't alert authorities ahead of time.

We were ultimately comfortable that he was on the Secret Service radar; they at least interviewed him. And we felt like it wasn't our journalistic job to pull the plug on his plan or to warn anybody in advance, because he never seemed like he was doing anything besides trying to bring attention to campaign finance reform.

And that's what he didn't want to get lost in this entire thing. He didn't want it to be about him. He wanted it to be about his issue, which was that there's unlimited amounts of money can be contributed to political candidates and corporations and unions. And he feels like -- he and many other people feel like that's unfair and that that's at the root of the crumbling of the democracy.

BLITZER: I knew he had a mission. And that was his mission. Fortunately, he's OK. I've got to tell you, as someone who's lived in this area for a long time, especially in the years since 9/11, he's a very, very lucky guy right now that he wasn't shot down and killed as he approached the U.S. Capitol.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Ben Montgomery. He's a reporter for "The Tampa Bay Times," and they've done extensive reporting on all of this.

Coming up, in fact, we're going to have that extraordinary video that the newspaper posted. You're going to see and you're going to hear it. The gyrocopter pilot telling us in his own words how and why he planned this flight to the U.S. Capitol.

And other stories we're following, breaking right now, ISIS has a major Iraqi city virtually surrounded. And a local official said the city is on the verge of collapse. CNN goes to the front lines. We'll have an exclusive report for you.


[17:22:23] BLITZER: We have more on this hour's breaking news. The security scare caused by a Florida mailman landing his gyrocopter in the front of the U.S. Capitol. He was promptly arrested. We're going to be getting in the video of the police leading him away. There you see it right there, in fact.

But his stunt is raising serious questions about security right here in the heart of the nation's capital.

Before he flew to Washington, Doug Hughes made a video explaining what he was about to do and why. It's been posted by "The Tampa Bay Times" newspaper, which actually helped produce this very, very slick video. We're going to play it for you now in its entirety.


HUGHES: I'm Doug Hughes. I'm 61 years old. And I'm a mailman working out of Riverview, Florida. No sane person would do what I'm doing. I have carefully planned it so that nobody will get hurt, including me, especially me. I'm not suicidal. And I'm not going to commit suicide. And I'm not going to fly into any monuments.

Terrorists don't announce their flights before they take off. OK? Terrorists don't broadcast their flight path. Terrorists don't invite an escort to go along with them.

GRAPHIC: Postal worker Doug Hughes wants to draw attention to campaign finance reform.

He intends to deliver letters to Congress asking them to change the campaign finance laws.

HUGHES: I have got a plane, a gyroplane. And I'm going to fly it. I'm going to violate the no-fly zone nonviolently and, again, for nobody to get hurt. And I'm going to land on the Capitol Mall in front of the Capitol building. I'm going to have 535 letters strapped to the landing gear in boxes. And those letters are going to be addressed to every member of Congress.

I'm delivering the message right to them, not for their sake but for the impact that it will have, because I'm trying to galvanize millions of people to do a relatively simple thing. Change the government to build a wall of separation between the government and big money so that government will represent the people.

[17:25:11] There are these problems and these problems and these problems that are much more important than campaign finance reform. But those won't get addressed until we fix campaign finance reform.

I don't believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 60-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle. I'm going to give them plenty of warning, well over an hour in advance of me getting to the no-fly zone, so that they know who I am and what I'm doing and that it's intended to be nonviolent.

I'm defenseless. They could knock me down. A Boy Scout with a B.B. gun could shoot me down. But I don't believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout that would result from publicly executing somebody for an act of dissent. GRAPHIC: Hughes loaded his gyrocopter onto a trailer April 10 in

preparation for his flight.

HUGHES: I have thought about walking away from this whole thing, because it's crazy. And I have thought about being 75 years old and watching the collapse of this country and thinking that I had an idea that might have arrested the fall, and I didn't do it. And I will tell you completely honestly, that I'd rather die in the flight than live to be 80 years old and see this country fall.


BLITZER: That's the whole video posted on "The Tampa Bay Times" website.

Let's bring in former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes and our CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez. Your reaction to this video, first of all, Tom?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: I think it's incredible. I think that all that notice with the newspaper in Tampa, driving all the way up to the D.C. area, flying an hour or two, going right into the Capitol with that, I mean, that could have been a large helicopter with a squad of ISIS members land on the Capitol like in some of the stupid movies -- I should say we thought they were stupid movies -- maybe not so, that showed Washington under attack, the White House under siege. And it might be right. It might be time for homeland security to hire a troop of Boy Scouts with B.B. guns. Maybe that's the answer.

BLITZER: It is pretty shocking to think about it in the aftermath of 9/11, I mean, to have an incident like this occur. If that guy, as I said before, if he wouldn't have had letters in that box that he had on the back of that gyrocopter, if he would have had a bomb, that could have been a disaster.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, again, all day today has been a mixture of amusement and concern, frankly, about this incident.

On one hand, you're talking about a flying bicycle outfitted with a lawn mower engine. So -- but on the other hand, as you pointed out, I mean, this could have been a lot more serious. This aircraft or this gyrocopter flew over the Lincoln Memorial, according to officials I've been talking to today.

So there's plenty of room for him to have gone wrong. He could have flown into the White House. He went right past it. And flew over thousands and thousands of tourists who were there, out there on the Washington Mall today. So, yes, I mean, it is a very serious thing.

The issue is this, right? If -- if he was flying a Russian helicopter or something bigger, no doubt that that would have been met by the full force of the U.S. defenses in the Capitol region. This is a small aircraft. We saw recently there was a drone that

was detected over the -- near the Washington National Airport, and the FBI scrambled helicopters to try to meet it. So it's clear that something has to be done to try to make sure something like this doesn't happen.

BLITZER: A drone -- that's pilotless -- that landed on the grounds of the White House a few weeks ago, as well.

FUENTES: I'm not sure there's any indication that any aircraft of any size would be stopped if it went to the Capitol or to the White House or one of the major -- what plans are there? What aircraft would be deployed? How would it deal with the enemy aircraft in the air? We've seen no indication that they're prepared to do anything of the kind.

BLITZER: Because in this particular case, "The Tampa Bay Times," we spoke with the reporter just a few moments ago, the actual gyrocopter landed outside the U.S. Capitol -- on the U.S. Capitol grounds at around 1:30. But at noon, they posted that this was all going down. And at 1 p.m., half an hour before it landed, they actually called the Secret Service and wanted to get reaction from them. In effect, they were alerting the Secret Service to what was going on. We don't know if they scrambled or if they did anything.

PEREZ: And the reaction on the ground, it's clear that no one was expecting this.

FUENTES: No, nobody. When you watch that video, it takes a minute or two for the squads to even find -- it's like it lands there, the rotor is spinning and there's nobody to be seen.

PEREZ: Nobody is there.

BLITZER: If he took off from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, he was in the air for two hours with this little contraption just slowly, methodically making its way to Washington, getting to restricted airspace, the most restricted airspace arguably, Tom -- you can correct me if I'm wrong -- in the United States.

FUENTES: It's true. We know a couple of months ago that when ISIS threatened to attack federal buildings and kill government workers, the Department of Homeland Security announced that they were going to deploy thousands of additional security officers all over the country. And we questioned them. You don't need them all over the country, all over the heartland, unless you're already well-protected here. Clearly, we're not.

BLITZER: And we saw the video of this little aircraft actually landing outside the U.S. Capitol. We didn't see any security personnel and the Secret Service, no helicopters in the sky. We basically saw some tourists watching what was going on.

PEREZ: Right, I think what this does expose is, really, at the center of Washington is where we're most vulnerable, because there's really not much you can do to shoot down a very small aircraft like that. There's nothing -- I mean, this guy went past the White House, down the National Mall. Plenty of places where, you know, you could have had an open shot, I guess, if you wanted to have one. And there wasn't any.

BLITZER: But if they would have seen this guy flying towards the Capitol -- they obviously had no communications with him -- what would be the standard operating procedure? Would there be rules of engagement, actually, as he got closer and closer to the U.S. Capitol, to that dome? Would there have been an alert that went out, "Shoot the plane down"?

FUENTES: I don't see any evidence...

BLITZER: Is that standard operating -- what are the rules?

FUENTES: I don't think it is standard.

BLITZER: In a situation like this, if they see a mysterious little helicopter or gyrocopter, whatever you want to call it, heading towards the U.S. Capitol grounds. What -- they don't know what's inside. They don't know who's inside.

FUENTES: I don't think they have rules of engagement. I think we've seen no indication of what plan they would have had in place. It very easily could have been like 9/11, where by the time our response military jets arrive, they're looking at the smoke coming out of the ground where the buildings are on fire.

BLITZER: Fortunately, he's OK. Fortunately, there was no damage, no terrorism, anything like that. But they'll have to step back now, all of the authorities -- the local ones, Capitol Hill, District of Columbia, the states, nearby, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, they're going to have to take a close look at the federal government, of course, and learn some lessons from this, as well.

PEREZ: Undoubtedly.

BLITZER: You know and I know, and all of our viewers know the bad guys are watching what just happened, and they'll going to learn some lessons from this, as well. We're going to have a lot more on this coming up later, guys. Thanks very much.

Coming up, an exclusive report we're following. Civilians flee in panic as ISIS surrounds a major city. Can Iraqi troops hold on?


[17:37:02] BLITZER: While Iraq's prime minister is here in Washington appealing for more U.S. weapons, more money, back home ISIS is tightening the noose around another major Iraqi city. Just 70 miles from Baghdad, there's a bloody battle underway right now in Ramadi.

In a CNN exclusive, a local official says the situation is dire, and the city may soon fall to the terror group. Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is just back from the front lines in Anbar Province. She's joining us now live from Baghdad.

What is the latest, Arwa? What do you know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pretty dire, Wolf. The deputy provincial head of the council in Ramadi saying that ISIS has been advancing from three different directions, moving steadily towards the city center. In fact, he went so far as to say that from his perspective, Ramadi had already fallen.

Very angry, very frustrated, because he says he had been warning the Iraqi government, asking for additional support in the form of troops, more boots on the ground to help the fighters already in the city get ready to try to push ISIS back.

But also because he and others have been requesting for quite some time now additional Iraqi air force airstrikes and coalition airstrikes on ISIS positions before they were even able to breach the city.

Entering this morning from the east in something of a surprise attack that sent, according to the official, 150,000 people fleeing. We saw some of those individuals that were trying to escape earlier in the day, trying to cross a bridge that you're not allowed to use a vehicle on. So they were on foot absolutely exhausted, Wolf, shocked, understandably, given what they had been through. Women, the elderly, children piled into metal carts, being pushed across this bridge.

One older woman we spoke to just burst into tears when we asked her about the situation. Another man describing how ISIS fighters walked into his house, didn't say a word and then set up a sniper position on his rooftop, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a shocking situation, tens of thousands of people now made refugee status. And the question is, where is the Iraqi military? Why are they MIA, missing in action, allowing this to happen to their own people? More on this story coming up. We're going to have a lot more, so stand by.

Also coming up, another story we've been following, the high- speed ramming of an Arizona suspect raising serious new questions about police tactics and dash cameras. Do they help or hurt?

And later, TSA agents fired -- fired -- for an outrageous plot to grope attractive passengers.


[17:44:25] BLITZER: Release of a shocking dash camera video is adding fuel to an intense debate about whether police are helped or hurt by the technology. CNN's Brian Todd is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got a closer look on what's the latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That suspect's attorney says that move by the police officer was incredibly reckless and dangerous. But tonight the police chief in Marana, Arizona, is vigorously defending the officer who struck that suspect with his squad car. And other law enforcement experts are telling us he had to end that situation quickly, and this was a good outcome.

We again have to warn viewers this video is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.


TODD (voice-over): By every measure, it was violent, risky, close to catastrophic. Marana, Arizona, police officer Michael Rapiejko rams suspect Mario Valencia, knocking him up in the air. The impact also captured on the Officer Rapiejko's dash cam.

Marana's police chief says the officer actually saved the suspect's life by doing this.

CHIEF TONY TERRY ROZEMA, MARANA POLICE: The suspect is OK. Our officer is OK. And all the citizens are OK.

TODD: An explanation that's not OK with the suspect's lawyer.

MICHELLE COHEN-METZGER, ATTORNEY FOR MARIO VALENCIA: I find it ludicrous to say that we're saving this man's life who's suicidal by almost killing him. I mean, he could have died. It's miraculous that he didn't die given how hard he was hit.

TODD: Police say in this February incident, Valencia was carrying a stolen high-powered rifle that he pointed it at an officer, threatened suicide by pointing it at himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to do this. You don't want to --

TODD: He'd fired in the air. One law enforcement expert says there was another way to handle this.

DANIEL BONGINO, FORMER NYPD OFFICER: I think setting up a secure perimeter and at least making some attempt to negotiate may have been far more efficient.

TODD: But Jim Bueermann, a longtime officer and former police chief, says there may not have been time for that.

JIM BUEERMANN, FORMER POLICE CHIEF, REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA: If he had decided to start shooting at the officers, all of the officers there were at risk. That bullet will go right through the car door, it goes through the windshield. There were other people on the street. It looked like it was a residential area. There could have been people coming out of businesses if it was a commercial area.

TODD: The mistake Officer Rapiejko made, Bueermann says, was seemingly not telling his fellow officers he was about to do this. They appeared surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus Christ, man down.

TODD: It's rekindled a passionate debate about the use of police cameras. Some argue they make police more jittery, less apt to go with their instincts, concerned with too much scrutiny. But Bueermann says cameras have become critical. They can expose police who've committed abuse or clarify uncertainties.

BUEERMANN: I think there's probably as many officers that have been exonerated by their dash cam videos showing that they did exactly what they were supposed to do and there was no misbehavior on their part as it has helped in evidentiary case, too.


TODD: Bueermann says dash cams are also powerful teaching tools for officers to review what they did right and wrong in a given incident. And he says they can help police with public messaging to explain why they used force in certain moments and that can help reduce tension between police and their communities.

Wolf, that's something after all these incidents desperately needed right now.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, shocking allegations against TSA officers who are supposed to keep all of us safe. Two of them have been fired after authorities say they discovered them plotting to grope passengers.

And we have much more coming up on this hour's breaking news, how did a mailman, a mailman on what he calls a flying bicycle manage to violate restricted airspace and land just outside the U.S. capitol here in Washington?


[17:52:24] BLITZER: We are following shocking allegations against a pair of airport security officers. The TSA has now fired them over an alleged plot to grope passengers.

Let's go back to our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She's got the details.

Rene, what happened?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION: Well, Wolf, this was going on for at least three months. Passengers being victimized. But after investigators got an anonymous tip, TSA officers were caught in the act. And now, tonight, they are off the job.


MARSH (voice-over): Two TSA officers targeting unsuspecting male passengers at the security check point at Denver International Airport. It's all detailed in this police report. The pair, a man and a woman, conspired to find and grope, quote, "attractive male passengers."

(On camera): How would you rate this violation of policy? I mean, is this the worse of the worse?

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: It doesn't get much worse than this. They undertake a scheme on a very innocent passenger trying to get to his or her flight.

MARSH: Here is how it worked. A male officer would signal his female co-worker when he saw an attractive male. She would put information in the body scanner that a female was being screened when it was actually a man causing the computer to detect an anomaly in the groin area, prompting a pat-down by the male officer.

After receiving an anonymous tip, TSA investigators say they witnessed the TSA officer touching a male passenger's genital area and buttocks with his palms, a clear violation of TSA policy. They are supposed to use the back of their hands.

WOLF: The procedure is very clear on how TSA screener conducts a pat-down.

MARSH: The female officer told investigators the scheme happened at least 10 times. The two officers are no longer with the agency.

In a statement, TSA said, "These alleged acts are egregious and intolerable."

WOLF: I think the Denver Police Department definitely needs to look at whether criminal charges of any kind need to take place. TSA screeners need to understand that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.


MARSH: Well, according to the D.A.'s office in Denver, two alleged victims have now come forward. We should point out investigators got this anonymous tip in November. But it wasn't until February until that TSA investigator dispatched to the airport to observe operations and caught the agents in the act.

So the question some people are asking, Wolf, three months, why did it take so long for that TSA investigator to get on the scene there -- Wolf.

[17:55:06] BLITZER: Good question, Rene. Thanks very, very much.

Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news we're following. Chaos at the U.S. capitol. Here in Washington, a security scare as a pilot reaches a no-fly zone. Lands a gyrocopter on the capitol ground. And that's raising serious new questions about the vulnerability of the most U.S. government buildings. You're going to hear the pilot tell how and why he planned this flight.


BLITZER: Happening now, capitol air space invaded. A one man, open aircraft lands on the doorstep of the U.S. Congress, defying a no-fly zone. Tonight, troubling new questions about security in the U.S. capitol.