U.S. Magistrate Judge Clinton E. Averitte in Amarillo, Texas signed a criminal complaint prepared by FBI Special Agent John Whitworth against 49-year-old Clayton Frederick Osbon on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 charging him with interfering with flight crew members and flight attendants aboard JetBlue Flight 191 on the previous day, under 49 U.S.C. § 46504, which carries a fine of $250,000 and up to 20 years in a federal prison, according to reports published on that data by Criminal Law News Now, NBC News, the Amarillo Globe-News, and other media outlets.
The 3-page affidavit, which can be read online, sets the legal framework to bring Mr. Osbon to trial for causing a JetBlue Airbus A320-232 to be diverted from a scheduled flight between New York and Las Vegas, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip.
It details a series of bizarre actions by the senior pilot, which caused him to be locked out of the cockpit by the copilot, wrestled to the galley floor by six passengers, carted off the aircraft strapped to a chair, taken for a psychiatric evaluation, suspended by his company’s President and CEO, David Barger, and now charged with a serious felony
The litany of complaints against Captain Osbon describe his actions aloft as “bizarre behavior”, “unfocused”, “possibly with the intention to destroy the aircraft”, and threatening all 135 passengers and five crew members.
A short list of these aberrations include:
* Turning off the plane’s radio communications.
* Telling the copilot to ignore air traffic control messages.
* Dimming his own cockpit flight control and navigation monitors.
* Talking incoherently about a “leap of faith”, al-Qaeda, Iran, and Iraq.
* Ranting outside the flight deck to “push it to full throttle.”
* Injuring a flight attendant and struggling with passengers.
The federal law under which Osbon has been charged makes it a crime to assault, intimidate, or otherwise disrupt any flight crew member from performing their job.
Should Captain Osbon use mental illness or insanity as the basis of his defense, the government will most likely rely on the McNaughton Rule, which dates back to a British case from 1843, in which the defendant, Daniel McNaughton attempted to assassinate British Prime Minister Robert Peel.
The McNaughton Rule would require Osbon to convince a jury that a mental illness made it impossible for him to understand what he was doing or that his actions were wrong, as in the finding in the assassination attempt against President Reagan on March 30, 1981, in which John Hinckley, Jr. shot the President, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Some medical pundits have speculated that Captain Osbon’s behavior is more closely aligned to alcohol withdrawal or a reaction to medications, rather than a psychotic episode, but actual evaluations of possible mental illness are much more complex.
What is known at this point is that witnesses at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (AMA) reported that the ambulance carrying the senior pilot remained on the tarmac for at least 30 minutes. Authorities, including the FBI, may have used that time to question Captain Osbon or record his behavior.
Whether such observations will ever be allowed to be given at trial will be argued at some future time.
Under U.S. law, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence until they are found guilty through a trial in which the evidence against them is heard, challenged, and evaluated.
What makes this case even more puzzling is that even JetBlue’s top boss, Dave Barger, called Osbon a “consummate professional” whom he has “personally known” for years.
A man who lives across the street from Mr. Osbon in Richmond Hill, Georgia, Elton Stafford, had only the kindest words of support for his neighbor, saying to a reporter on WNBC-TV, “Clayton’s a great guy. Loves to have a good time, loves the outdoors. He just loves people. They’re the kind of neighbors that everybody wants.”
Whatever happened two days ago in the thin air over Texas to change those good feelings, and bring about criminal charges, is still a mystery.
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