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Judge to rule on Texan charged in Southwest flight dispute

Posted at 4:35 PM, Aug 05, 2019

DALLAS (AP) — A federal judge will determine whether a profanity-laced tantrum by a Texas man aboard a Southwest Airlines flight last year constituted a threat to the flight crew and passengers or was merely rude behavior.

Justin Riley Brafford, 29, was arrested and charged with flight crew interference after the Dallas-bound plane was diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, last October. A female passenger complained that Brafford touched her, tried to play "footsies" and whispered unsolicited advances when she requested a seat change, a criminal complaint shows. Authorities said Brafford verbally attacked the woman and the flight attendant who granted her seat-change request.

Brafford's lawyer, John Van Butcher, filed a motion in June to dismiss the indictment, saying that the Denton man "acted rudely" but did not disobey any direct order from the flight crew and didn't touch any of them during the 30-second outburst.

A ruling is slated for next week, the Dallas Morning News reported. If convicted, Brafford faces up to 20 years in prison.

"I've seen some things that were a lot worse that didn't lead to charges," Butcher said. "Being obnoxious and boorish is not a crime."

But prosecutors said Brafford's "volatile reaction" intimidated the flight attendant and others.

The flight attendant believed Brafford was "not acting like a normal person and seemed to have gone from 'zero to sixty in nano-seconds,'" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Presiliano A. Torrez, of the District of New Mexico.

Torrez said in a court filing that the federal law correctly criminalizes speech or conduct on board an aircraft during a flight if it interferes with the ability of a crew to perform their duties. Brafford did just that, by "behaving in an uncooperative, aggressive and belligerent manner," according to the indictment.

The newspaper's comment request from the U.S. attorney's office in New Mexico was not returned.

Brafford is also appealing a magistrate judge's October order that denied him bond, arguing he's not a threat and will show up for his trial.

Butcher said that Brafford had an unsteady home life and became involved with drugs and alcohol. Brafford, an admitted drug addict, was freed from a California state prison on parole days prior to his travels to Dallas to stay with his aunt, according to court records.

But the government opposes his release, citing what a prosecutor called Brafford's extensive criminal history.

Brafford's past charges mostly stem from his drug use, Butcher said.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News,