Fight on Delta flight from Tampa to Atlanta began with Rosa Parks comments and masks, federal government says

A drinks cart, an unworn mask and a commentary on civil rights activist Rosa Parks led to violence on a Delta Airlines flight last week from Tampa to Atlanta, according to court documents and a passenger from Tampa who assisted to subdue a woman.

The Delta 2790 departed from Tampa International Airport two days before Christmas. Passenger Patricia Cornwall was returning from the washroom and found the aisle blocked by the drinks cart, according to a federal criminal complaint filed on Monday in the Northern Georgia District of the United States District Court.

When a flight attendant asked Cornwall to find another open seat to wait for the beverage service to end, the complaint indicates that Cornwall replied, “What am I, Rosa Parks? “

The cart was stopped near the headquarters of Russell S. Miller, who “felt Cornwall’s comment was inappropriate,” the complaint says. Miller told Cornwall that she “isn’t black… it’s not Alabama and it’s not a bus.”

When Cornwall next turned his attention to Miller, he told the woman to “sit down, Karen,” Miller later told an FBI agent. This agent wrote that “additional derogatory comments have been made by both parties involved.”

Video captured by another passenger and referenced in the complaint shows Cornwall standing over Miller, who is seated. Both are maskless and are screaming.

“Put on your mask. … Don’t you dare talk to me like that, ”Cornwall says in the video.

“I’m eating.… Would you like me to pour this over your head?” Miller said.

When a flight attendant in the video tells Cornwall to “hide now,” Cornwall demands that Miller put on his mask as well. “Cornwall then hit (Miller) with a closed fist… causing visible injuries,” reads the complaint, “then spat in (Miller) face and head.”

Reached by phone, Cornwall declined to comment but said she would forward the reporter’s investigation to her lawyer.

Miller sustained a scratch on his face, according to an Atlanta Police Department report, and another passenger was burned by hot water as a result of the “suspect’s disruptive actions.”

Amilcar Delgado, a delivery guy for a furniture company in Tampa, sat nearby on the first leg of a family trip to Argentina.

“I had noticed (Cornwall) before,” said Delgado, “because I had made a comment to my wife that this woman was walking around without a mask.”

When the fight broke out, he said, an air hostess turned to him and asked for help. He stood up, put the woman’s arms behind his back and moved her to the back of the plane.

“I actually have experience,” Delgado said, “because I was doing bar and restaurant security in New York City.”

Flight attendants tried to restrain Cornwall with zip ties but after she tried to give one they gave up, Delgado said. They asked Delgado if he would keep an eye on the woman instead, so he spent the rest of the flight sitting alone with her in an empty row in the back of the plane.

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“She actually calmed down and told me about her two kids and going home to California to meet her mom for Christmas,” Delgado said. “She kept saying, ‘Please don’t let them hurt me’, and I said, ‘I’ll do my best. “

Then, said Delgado, the woman took out a vape pen, inhaled, and released a large cloud of vapor. The flight attendants ignored him, he said.

Flight attendants are trained in de-escalation techniques, but sometimes situations escalate beyond what the crew alone can handle, said Taylor Garland, union spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants. In these cases, flight attendants are “trained to identify able-bodied passengers they can call in an emergency,” she said. “Passengers should only be involved in incidents on board when a crew member asks them to. “

Delgado said he and his wife received a $ 50 credit, which he believes all passengers on the flight received for the inconvenience. He said he later received an additional $ 150 voucher for helping the flight attendants.

Atlanta police arrested Cornwall when the plane landed. FBI agents then arrested her. The federal government has jurisdiction over crimes that occur on commercial flights in the United States. She is charged with assault on a plane and faces a fine and up to a year in prison if convicted.

Cornwall was released on $ 20,000 bail. She appeared in federal court on Monday and was ordered to surrender her passport, to refrain from drinking alcohol and not to fly except to return home to Los Angeles.

In November, Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. prosecutors to prioritize criminal prosecutions on commercial flights after airlines and federal officials reported an increase in unruly passengers.

That same month, the Federal Aviation Administration fined 10 passengers a total of $ 225,287 for what it said was “Suspected unruly behavior” in airplanes. Four of those incidents, including a woman accused of pushing aside a flight attendant while being kicked off a plane in Tampa, involved passengers refusing to comply with the FAA mask requirement.

According to an Association of Flight Attendants survey in July, nearly one in five flight attendants said they had had a “physical incident” this year with a passenger.

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