HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A homeless woman was arrested for assault after authorities said she attacked a Transportation Security Administration officer at Honolulu International Airport Saturday afternoon in an incident that was caught on security video. And the TSA is hailing an off-duty police officer for tackling and restraining the suspect before he boarded his flight home.
It happened in the exit lane of Checkpoint 3, the main security passenger screening station, the airport's largest and busiest.
Security video showed TSA officer Deanna Rezentes guarding the passenger exit to make sure no one entered the secured area March 30 just before 1 p.m.
That's when the TSA said a homeless woman knocked down a sign and then began attacking and punching the TSA officer who confronted her.
Rezentes held onto the homeless woman, stopping her from entering the secured area on the way to airline gates.
Justin Rogers, an off-duty policeman from Pinole, Calif., leaped over a glass barrier and subdued the attacker, after seeing no other security personnel were coming to help. He was still wearing socks because he'd taken off his shoes in the screening line.
Rogers is a corporal with the police department in the city of Pinole. He was waiting in line with his family at the checkpoint before boarding a flight home to the San Francisco bay area from a Hawaii vacation, according to a news release from the Pinole Police Department.
The TSA released a written statement saying it's grateful for Rogers' selfless, decisive reaction to the assault.
"His actions, coupled with the quick response by airport security, ensured that the integrity of the airport's sterile area was maintained, minimizing disruptions to the traveling public," the TSA said.
Rogers gave a statement to local authorities and he and his family were then able to board their flight home.
On Sunday morning, Stanford Miyamoto, TSA's Federal Security Director in Honolulu, sent an email to TSA employees saying that Rezentes was "doing fine, but a little swollen and sore on the left side of her face."
State sheriff deputies arrested and booked Wailana Haiola, 43, who's homeless, with assault. She was taken to Castle Medical Center in Kailua, which has a mental unit and released on her own recognizance.
The incident began when an airport security guard told Haiola to put out her cigarette because she was in a non-smoking area, according to a state Public Safety Department spokeswoman. That's when the woman started knocking down at least one sign that told people not to enter the exit lane, she said.
In his email, Miyamoto asked all Honolulu TSA employees to view the security video recording of the assault as "a lesson learned … mainly the importance of your mission and difficulties/dangers you face on a daily basis, especially in light of potential terrorists and difficult/irate passengers."
People who work at the airport say between five and 15 homeless people sleep there every night and most of them don't cause trouble.
"It's kind of like any other public place. People are allowed to be here and unless they're committing a crime or doing something to bother someone, they're allowed to be here like anyone else," said Caroline Sluyter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
Some homeless people have told airport staff they like spending the night at the airport because with so much security, they consider it much safer than the streets.
Sluyter said the airport used to have many more homeless before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that stopped access to the airplane gates for anyone other than ticketed passengers.
"But now we've found, because there is so much security, there are some here. But it's not an overwhelming problem," Sluyter said.
She said when state DOT employees notice homeless people at the airport, they try to obtain help for them through social service providers.
Hawaii News Now could find just one homeless person, a middle-aged woman, at the airport at midday Thursday. Airport officials said the homeless population tends to swell overnight and early in the morning, and most homeless people leave the airport during the day.
Rogers is a second-generation Pinole policeman who has been on the force since 2006, according to Cdr. Pete Janke. Janke said Rogers is traveling to a wedding and was unavailable for an interview.