California woman who punched flight attendant pleads guilty

A California woman accused of punching a flight attendant in the face and breaking her teeth on a Southwest Airlines flight has pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge, officials said this week.

Vyvianna Quinonez, 28, of Sacramento pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of interference with a flight crew, according to the U.S. prosecutor’s office in San Diego.

The attack occurred on a May 23 flight from Sacramento to San Diego. On the final descent of the flight, the flight attendant approached Quinonez and asked him to fasten his seat belt, stow away his tablet and properly wear his face mask. His failure to do so was a violation of federal rules and regulations, officials said.

Instead of complying, Quinonez began recording the flight attendant on her cell phone and then pushed the flight attendant away, according to the admissions in the plea agreement.

Around this time, another passenger, Michelle Manner, began recording the altercation on her cell phone. This video, which circulated widely, showed Quinonez hitting the flight attendant, who then appeared dizzy and bloody as other passengers attempted to intervene.

“It was scary. It was ridiculous. It was totally preventable,” Manner said by phone Thursday. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened and that it took this route.”

Union leaders sentenced the attack, in which the flight attendant suffered three chipped teeth, two of which had to be replaced with crowns, officials said.

The flight attendant’s left eye was also bruised and swollen, and a cut under her eye required three stitches. She had a finger-like bruise on her right forearm.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson said Thursday the company appreciated the work of federal and local authorities to “bring this matter to justice.”

“Southwest Airlines has a zero tolerance policy with regards to physical or verbal abuse against its employees,” he said.

The altercation took place against the backdrop of an alarming increase in incidents of misconduct on board aircraft. According to Federal Aviation Administration, the number of investigations related to unruly passengers has exploded since early 2020, with nearly 5,800 reports of unruly passengers in 2021.

More than 4,100 of the cases this year were linked to face masks.

Jaclyn Stahl, one of the prosecutors in the Quinonez case, said incidents can be difficult to prosecute due to jurisdictional issues and because witnesses disperse on landing and crime scenes can literally fly away .

She said officials were happy with the plea deal reached this week.

“We believe this is a fair and equitable result taking into account all the factors, including the injuries of the victim and the characteristics of the accused,” Stahl said. “The accused took responsibility early on by pleading and not going to trial.”

The initial charges against Quinonez included one count of assault, which Stahl said the government would likely be set to dismiss upon sentencing.

Quinonez attorney Knut Johnson declined to comment on Thursday.

Due to the assault, the flight attendant was unable to perform her normal duties and the pilot-in-command had to delay taxiing the aircraft to the boarding gate to await law enforcement response, federal officials said.

“The flight attendant who was assaulted was just doing her job to ensure the safety of all passengers on the plane,” acting US Atty. Randy Grossman said in a statement on the plea. “It is inexcusable for anyone to use violence on an airplane for any reason, especially towards a flight attendant who is there to ensure the safety of all passengers. We will not tolerate violence or interference with the flight crew, and we will prosecute those who break the law. “

The maximum sentence for the charge against Quinonez includes 20 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000.

The ultimate sentence rests with the United States District Court judge, but Stahl said the parties have agreed to jointly recommend a $ 5,000 fine and restitution over $ 20,000, which includes a financial refund to Southwest Airlines. as well as the payment of the victim’s physical injuries and lost wages.

They also jointly recommend three years of supervised release, which includes a ban on flying on commercial airlines, anger management courses and community service, she said.

Quinonez is expected to be sentenced on March 11.

Manner, the witness who recorded the video, said that Quinonez was wrong to hit the flight attendant, but the situation had become more ‘heated’ than expected and that she also wished the hostess air responds differently.

She praised the airline for the way it handled the situation on the ground.

“It’s terrible, and there is so much tension,” she said. “Everyone has been disturbed in recent years. “

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