Man accused of hitting flight attendant heard voices, prosecutors say
HONOLULU (KHN– Prosecutors said the man accused of hitting a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant heard voices weeks before the incident.
Steven Sloan Jr., 32, was back in federal court Thursday for a detention hearing where a judge ruled he posed a significant risk to himself or others and should remain in custody.
Prosecutors told the judge Sloan had been hearing voices for at least two weeks and wondered if he had the mental capacity to proceed with the hearing. The defense argued that Sloan is competent, and the judge agreed.
Sloan is accused of banging a male flight attendant, without provocation, on a flight to Hilo on Thursday, September 23. The plane returned to Honolulu where Sloan was arrested.
Legal experts said prosecutors tend to be tough on unruly passengers who act violently.
“Usually when there is physical assault they are not very forgiving in dropping charges to a lesser extent,” said Ali Silvert, a retired federal public defender. “Right now it’s a felony and in this type of case it’s unusual for a prosecutor to call it a misdemeanor.”
Silvert has represented approximately 30 people for similar incidents. A felony charge in cases like this could mean up to 20 years in prison.
“Since there may be mental issues in what happened, if this is true and can be proven then the government could be more sympathetic and allow Mr. Sloan to plead a misdemeanor,” he said. said Silvert.
In addition to the voices, prosecutors also told the judge that Sloan had a history of drug abuse, which could also be a factor.
“If you have drug or alcohol use that has affected your mental state in the long run, that’s a problem,” Silvert added.
In addition to assault, Sloan is also charged with interference with a flight crew – a misdemeanor – carries a one-year sentence. Sloan is due to pass a preliminary hearing on Monday, October 11.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in September that reports of unruly passengers were still coming in at twice the rate reported at the end of 2020. As of January 2021, the agency has received reports of at least 4,498 such incidents, the majority of which involve passengers refusing to comply with mask warrants.
The FAA also proposed over $ 1,100,000 in civil penalties (collectively) against some of these disruptive passengers since the adoption of a zero tolerance policy aimed at tackling bad behavior on commercial flights.