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Passenger gets probation and $9,123 restitution charge for interfering with flight crew

<i>American Airlines</i><br/>A woman was sentenced to 24 months of probation on Tuesday for interfering with flight crew members
American Airlines
A woman was sentenced to 24 months of probation on Tuesday for interfering with flight crew members

By Marnie Hunter, CNN

A woman was sentenced to 24 months of probation in US District Court for Arizona on Tuesday for interfering with flight crew members, a Class C felony offense, aboard an American Airlines plane in 2021.

In addition to probation, Leeza S. Rodriguez was ordered by the court to pay $9,123 in restitution to American Airlines Corporate Security as well as a $100 special assessment.

The court determined that Rodriguez did not have the ability to pay a fine, and that was waived.

As part of her probation, Rodriguez must participate in a substance abuse treatment program as instructed by a probation officer and agree to substance abuse testing.

Rodriguez’s attorney, Melinda Kovacs, did not have a comment on Tuesday’s sentencing.

Rodriguez’s co-defendant in the incident, Kelly Pichardo, was sentenced in September.

What happened aboard flight 776

The two were traveling in first class on American Airlines flight 776 from Dallas to Los Angeles on February 24, 2021, when the incident occurred.

The flight rerouted to Phoenix so that the two could be removed from the plane.

An indictment charged that Pichardo and Rodriguez interfered with a flight crew member by assaulting a crew member while the aircraft was in flight.

Rodriguez was also charged with assaulting a passenger, according to the indictment. Pichardo was charged with assaulting a different passenger.

Both defendants ended up pleading guilty to one count of interfering with a flight crew member.

Pichardo was sentenced in September to four months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release. Pichardo was also ordered to pay $9,123 in restitution to American Airlines.

In a news release announcing Pichardo’s sentencing, the Justice Department called the behavior “unruly and intimidating.”

Unruly passenger behavior reached a record level in 2021

A record year for unruly passenger behavior, 2021 ended with 5,981 reports to the Federal Aviation Administration.

About 1,100 investigations and 350 enforcement actions were initiated in 2021.

At the end of 2021, the Justice Department vowed to prioritize prosecution of crimes on commercial airplanes.

As for 2022, it showed a marked improvement in the number of incidents reported: 2,359 unruly passenger reports had been logged as of December 15, with 823 investigations initiated.

While the number of incidents reported and investigations initiated dropped in 2022, there were more enforcement cases — 553 — initiated.

Eighty cases in 2022 had been referred to the FBI for criminal review as of December 15, according to FAA figures.

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