When Dr. Jeffrey Epstein showed up at the American Airlines ticket counter at Orlando International Airport in Florida at 6 a.m. for a 6:24 a.m. flight, he got a response he did not like.
He was too late to check in, airline employees told him Thursday.
Epstein, 59, argued with the employees and began yelling. When police officers arrived, Epstein yelled at them, too, insulting them and telling them to get him a flight or arrest him, according to cellphone video of the encounter.
They arrested him. But he did not go easily, falling to the ground and pulling his hands close to his chest.
As officers struggled to put him in handcuffs, Epstein was pepper-sprayed. Epstein, who is white, repeatedly yelled out “Oh, my God” and, in one profanity-laden line, that he was being treated like a “black person,” the video shows.
The widely circulated footage of the encounter became a twisted commentary on the treatment of black people by the police, with some pointing out that outbursts far less belligerent than Epstein’s have proved deadly for black people.
“It’s clear that Dr. Epstein stood firmly in his privilege, taunting the officers,” said David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “He was condescending. He was rude. Those are all things that black people could never think to do to a police officer and remain standing and or breathing.”
Epstein, who lives in Lakeland, Florida, did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
In an interview with the television station WESH 2, Epstein said he created the disturbance to encourage businesses like American Airlines to take care of their customers and to push the police to better de-escalate situations.
“I was making a point,” he told the station. “If you’re going to do this to a white doctor, who is 59 years old, for doing nothing, then why should black people trust you?”
He added: “I’m a conservative Republican, I’m a Trump guy. But until the police fix this problem, I don’t blame black people for being upset when they get arrested.”
Johns said that Epstein’s explanation was “laughable at best” and that he hoped the encounter would prompt the police in general to think about how white people are treated with “kid gloves” and black people “die in similar encounters.”
In response to Epstein’s comments, the Orlando Police Department said in a statement that it believed that “all people are to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Epstein was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence, which are felonies, as well as trespassing and disorderly conduct. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, said that Epstein was booked on a flight to Philadelphia and that airline employees offered to place him on standby for the next available flight, which was at 7:20 a.m. Epstein would have secured a seat had he chosen that option, Feinstein said.
In an arrest affidavit, the police said officers directed Epstein to move out of the ticketing line as he was yelling.
After he was removed from the line, he could be seen standing near an officer yelling that an American Airlines employee had a “flippant attitude” and that the officer was trying to provoke him.
“Do you know how to de-escalate things, genius?” Epstein says to the police officer. “Do you have training, genius?”
The police officers noticed “white froth around Epstein’s lips” and asked him to leave the terminal “based on his erratic behavior and for the safety and security of the traveling public,” the police affidavit said.
When he was being arrested, Epstein, referring to the police, yelled for passers-by to “look what they are doing” and pleaded with officers not to beat him up. The police said Epstein kicked officers at least twice during the struggle.