A Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Dallas had to make an emergency landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, due to an unruly passenger who was repeatedly harassing a woman seated next to him on the flight, Fox News reported.
The passenger now faces an assault charge (among others) and up to 20 years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine for his confrontation with the cabin crew. His assault charge alone could warrant a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, according to Fox News.
29-year-old Justin Riley Brafford from Texas was on Southwest Flight 859 when he sat next to an unidentified woman. Right before take off, Brafford allegedly put his arm on the woman’s leg, and when she refused his advances, forcibly tried to “play footsie” with her, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, as reported by Fox News.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Brafford was sitting in the middle seat while the victim sat in the aisle seat. Another woman was apparently sitting in the window seat. Southwest does not assign seats, so passengers are free to take whatever seats are available.
The woman attempted to make Brafford stop his actions, but he allegedly “[pulled] on her sweater,” repeatedly asked her to go out after the flight and if she was staying alone in her hotel, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Eventually, flight attendants intervened by moving the woman to a new seat, but Brafford still did not stop the harassment. When he attempted to approach her again he got into a confrontation with cabin crew.
At this point, the pilot was notified and the plane made an emergency landing, heavily inconveniencing several other passengers and causing them to miss connecting flights, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Brafford claimed to authorities in Albuquerque that he believed the woman was flirting with him, reported the Albuquerque Journal. Brafford mentioned he “may have gone too far” in the reported complaint. It is possible that Brafford was under the influence of drugs at the time, according to Fox News.
He was detained on Thursday due to his criminal record and history of violence, reported the Albuquerque Journal.