By Patrick Shelby
LAW WEEK COLORADO
A California man was federally charged after allegedly attacking a flight attendant and punching her in the face after being told to sit down as he waited to use the bathroom aboard cross-county American Airlines flight 976, which forced the plane to be diverted to Denver last week, according to a court document.
Brian Hsu of Irvine, California, was charged with interference with a flight crew and assault within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S. on Nov. 2.
Represented by Federal Public Defender Andrea Jacobs, Hsu appeared before U.S. District Judge Autumn Spaeth in Los Angeles on Monday and was released after paying a $10,000 bond. He is next due in Denver court on Nov. 15.
Once the rerouted flight landed at the Denver International Airport shortly after 6:30 p.m., on Oct. 27, Hsu was interrogated by Federal Bureau of Investigation officers with assistance from the Denver Police Department.
During his FBI interview, Hsu informed investigators he was returning home from New York after receiving brain surgery in Rhode Island. The reason for the surgery was to reconstruct portions of his skull from an assault in New York City last year.
As a result of the trauma, Hsu reported he suffers from psychological damage, including ringing in his ears, nausea, dizziness and loss of balance. He also said he is now sensitive to sound and sometimes experiences a mental “fog,” which makes thinking difficult.
The suspect’s mother, who was on the plane with him, said her son becomes easily angered and is afraid of people touching his head.
In the affidavit, the flight attendant stated the incident occurred in the mid-galley section of the airplane outside the bathroom where Hsu purportedly struck her twice as the plane was en route from New York’s JFK Airport to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.
The third flight attendant on the aircraft described the initial contact to the investigator when she was speaking with another attendant and felt something strike her head. When she turned to see what had hit her, she saw the defendant and asked if he was all right, the document noted.
She advised that his response seemed odd because Hsu did not apologize for hitting her and instead just stated that he needed to use the bathroom. The victim explained to Hsu that the bathroom was occupied and because the pilot had turned on the “fasten seatbelt” sign, he needed to return to his seat and wait for the bathroom there, according to the complaint.
The victim said Hsu made a motion to stretch again but instead slammed his elbow on her head. The document revealed she took a defensive posture with her arms out in front of her and her hands up. Hsu backed off, but then charged at her, flailing his arms, the victim told the investigator.
Another flight attendant rushed over to intervene and Hsu backed off again, but when he charged at the victim this time, he struck her in the face with the closed fist of his right hand, the document detailed.
Four witnesses told federal investigators that the flight attendant hit the lavatory door after she was punched. According to court documents, the first witness said Hsu punched the victim hard enough for her head to hit the bathroom door and the second witness described Hsu “striking her with his fist in a way that appeared practiced or trained.” The third witness remembered the victim stating, “I have a fractured nose” after the strike. The fourth witness described a “scramble” and that Hsu struck her with a “full swing.”
However, Hsu presented a different account of what happened to investigators. The report specified, while standing and stretching in the corridor, Hsu said he accidentally bumped the victim with his hand or arm.
He alleged the victim “became agitated and began swinging at his head with her hands, but not her fists.” Hsu explained to authorities that he became scared because an impact to his head could cause him severe injury or death. To prevent the flight attendant from striking his head, Hsu claimed in the report, he backed up towards his seat and raised his hands defensively with the palms facing outward. He stated the victim “charged at him and hit her nose against his right hand palm,” causing the injury to herself.
Following the incident, witness number three recalled that people came and restrained Hsu with duct tape and later plastic bonds, the FBI investigation noted.
Many witnesses commented on HSU’s odd behavior before and after the incident, the document confirmed.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a video statement released on Instagram following the incident, “Let me assure you, American Airlines will not tolerate airport or inflight misconduct of any kind, particular to our crew members or airport team. As for this individual, I can guarantee you he will never be allowed to fly American Airlines again… We’re doing everything we can to ensure he’s prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior, according to information posted on its website.
On Jan. 13, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order directing a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly airline passengers in the wake of recent, troubling incidents.
The FAA investigates unruly-passenger incidents that airline crew report to the agency. The data reflects all cases the FAA investigated that cited violations of one or more FAA regulations or federal laws.
On Nov. 2, the agency documented 5,033 unruly passenger reports; 3,642 mask-related incidents, 950 investigations and 227 enforcement cases initiated and 5.6 reported unruly passenger incidents per 10,000 flights for the week ending Oct. 26.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants issued a public statement regarding the federal charges filed against passenger Hsu.
“APFA is relieved that charges have been filed and the process is moving forward. Anyone who physically assaults a Flight Attendant or Customer Service Ground Agent should be held accountable for their actions. APFA will continue to collaborate with other Flight Attendant and Customer Service Agent Unions, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Congress to ensure these offenders are prosecuted to the full extent of the law with appropriate fines, criminal penalties and applicable flying bans,” the statement reads.