A Denver man was found guilty of interference with a flight crew following a jury trial last month in federal court in Denver, according to a statement released by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The three-day jury trial included some unusual testimony from various flight crew members and attendants, as well as the pilots of U.S. Airways flight 580 from Philadelphia to Denver on August 4, 2015.
The jury deliberated for approximately 3 hours before reaching their guilty verdict. The defendant, who remains free on bond, is scheduled to appear in court in May for sentencing, where he faces a statutory maximum of up to 20 years and up to a $250,000 fine. His offense conduct and criminal history will be factors in what advisory sentencing guideline range is recommended by the U.S. Probation Office and the government.
The trial evidence and court documents included the following issues presented at trial:
- Having missed his previous connection, the airline upgraded the defendant to first class to accommodate the inconvenience. The reason for this missed connection was not disclosed.
- Because of his loud and odd behavior upon boarding, the lead flight attendant limited his alcohol intake.
- After the flight took off, he swapped seats to sit next to a young lady with whom he wanted to strike up a conversation.
- He became increasingly upset when the flight attendant denied him further alcoholic beverages, which made him disruptive and threatening.
- At numerous times during the flight the defendant also had inappropriate physical contact with the flight attendant, including placing his hand on the small of her back repeatedly, and finally grabbing her and kissing her neck.
- When instructed that his conduct was inappropriate, he then began a slew of profanities directed at flight attendants and passengers.
- The defendant was so loud that the plane’s captain heard his rants in the cockpit – over radio traffic and despite noise cancelling headphones.
- The flight attendants got an ice hammer, a pot of hot coffee, plastic handcuffs and alerted two able-bodied passengers to assist in the event that the defendant got even further out of hand.
- When confronted, the defendant responded by repeatedly stating, “Let’s go!” He then promised to bring the airline down.
- He also (falsely) claimed to be a former Green Beret / Special Forces, and he showed off his purported bullet wounds, along with a photo of his pot farm.
The crew radioed ahead to have law enforcement at the gate upon landing. The defendant continued his “threats and anger” toward the Denver police officers and an FBI Special Agent.
The federal crime of “Interference With Flight Crew Members Or Flight Attendants” (49 U.S.C. § 46504) occurs when someone “assaults, threatens, or intimidates a flight crew member or attendant while aboard an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, and thereby interferes with the performance of that crew member’s duties or lessens the ability of that crew member to perform his/her duties.” A violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 is a general intent crime; it does not require any specific intent to intimidate or to interfere with the flight crew member or attendant. U.S. v. Grossman, 131 F.3d 1449, 1451-52 (11th Cir. 1997).
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