Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Jury convicts man who threatened Southwest flight attendant

Southwest Airlines logoAnother day, another court ruling in the case of an unruly passenger. And another day of news media making light of the situation...

Carl William Persing, 41, was convicted by a jury of interfering with flight attendants and crew members. The felony conviction came after a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, NC.

Persing's trouble began on a Southwest Airlines flight this past September. According to a criminal complaint signed by an FBI agent, Persing and his girlfriend were "embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable." A flight attendant asked them to stop. In response to that request, Persing threatened the flight attendant.

The flight attendant reported the threats made against him to the captain, and the couple were arrested when the aircraft landed at its destination, Raleigh-Durham. The judge later dismissed the charge against Persing's girlfriend.

WWAY TV3 reported that Persing was offered a plea deal before the trial started. He could have plead to a misdemeanor simple assault, but turned it down. A trial ensued and the jury found him guilty.

Persing will be sentenced on August 6. Assistant US Attorney John Bowler said that Persing will likely serve jail time for the federal felony conviction. After the verdict was handed down, the judge told Persing that he could fly on commercial and private aircraft only if traveling to and from court appearances.

That's the gist of the story. The man had his day in court, and after hearing the facts of the case the jury saw fit to convict him. What bothers me is that some of the news media are reporting on this case in a way that trivializes this kind of offense.

Many reports -- and especially the headlines -- focused on the couple's inappropriate behavior that prompted the flight attendant to intervene in the first place, not on the subsequent threats to the flight attendant. Moreover, this was done in a snickering 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' kind of way.

Here are just a few examples of what I'm referring to:
Headline, from WECT in Wilmington: Mid-Air Make Out Lands Couple in Court

Headline from the Wilmington Star: Man in airline love case guilty of interfering with flight crew

Headline from the News & Observer: Frisky flier is guilty of bullying -- And the story begins with the sentence, "A California man is now a convicted felon for threatening a flight attendant who asked him and his girlfriend to stop their lusty cuddling on a Raleigh-bound flight."

The headline of an Associated Press story published on MSNBC: Man convicted for mile-high makeout - and the sub-heading reads, "Jury punishes affectionate passenger for interfering with flight"
There are more, but you get the idea. Headlines like these make it sound as though this guy was raked over the coals for being 'frisky' and 'amorous.' Persing was not tried and convicted for making out with his girlfriend on that flight. He was convicted -- by a jury -- of intimidating a flight attendant, making it difficult for him to do his job. Persing also threatened to 'have it out on the ground' with the flight attendant.  That's not cute or funny, as Persing now knows.

Okay, rant mode off. For now.