A man who was taped to his seat and arrested after authorities say he groped female flight attendants and punched a male crewmember won a college frat award for being a “perfect role model” and for leading “the fight to dismantle fraternity stereotypes”, The New York Times has reported.
The airline said on Tuesday that the flight attendants would be “relieved of flying” while the incident was investigated, a decision that was blasted by the largest flight attendants’ union in the US, the Association of Flight Attendants. Later that same day, the airline said that paid leave was appropriate for “an event of this nature”.
WPVI-TV in Philadelphia reported that 22-year-old Maxwell Berry from Norwalk, Ohio was arrested after the flight. A criminal complaint from the Miami-Dade Police Department said he has been charged with three misdemeanour counts of battery.
Mr Berry had two drinks on the plane and used his empty cup to touch the backside of a female crew member, who said “don’t touch me”, according to the criminal complaint written by the arresting officers.
Sitting in seat 28D, he reportedly spilt his third drink on his shirt and went to the restroom – later coming out shirtless.
After being helped by one of the flight attendants to get a new shirt from his carry-on, he walked around the plane for 15 minutes before groping the chest of another flight attendant who told him not to touch her and to sit down, authorities said. Officers wrote in the criminal complaint that Mr Berry put his arms around the two flight attendants he had previously groped.
A male flight attendant walked to Mr Berry’s seat to oversee his actions and asked him repeatedly to calm down, at which point Mr Berry punched the crew member in the face, officers said.
Mr Berry can be heard screaming “you guys f***ing suck” in a video taken by another passenger. He also claimed that his parents are worth “more than f***ing two million goddamn dollars”.
In an inaudible comment, Mr Berry appeared to also mention his grandfather’s wealth.
In a video obtained by TMZ, Mr Berry can be heard saying: “I’m white. I’m sorry, I can’t change that.”
Mr Berry’s mouth was taped over but the tape was quickly lowered by a flight attendant. The 22-year-old yelled “help” several times.
He has taken to the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department on Sunday and was released later the same day.
Mr Berry graduated in May from Ohio Wesleyan University. He was given values in action award from the frat community for being a “perfect role model” and for being a leader in “the fight to dismantle fraternity stereotypes”.
A Zoom video of the presentation of the awards was posted by the university.
“Ohio Wesleyan is saddened to learn of this situation with one of our graduates,” university spokesman Cole Hatcher told The New York Times on Tuesday. “The case does not involve the university, and the incidents depicted do not reflect Ohio Wesleyan’s values.”
The president of the Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson said in a statement: “A drunk and irate passenger verbally, physically and sexually assaulted multiple members of the crew. When he refused to comply after multiple attempts to de-escalate, the crew was forced to restrain the passenger with the tools available to them on board. We are supporting the crew.”
Officers said in their criminal complaint that passengers helped restrain Mr Berry, who was secured in his seat using packing tape, a video appeared to show. A seatbelt extender was also used, police said.
“Frontier Airlines maintains the utmost value, respect, concern and support for all of our flight attendants, including those who were assaulted on this flight,” the Denver-based airline said. “We are supporting the needs of these team members and are working with law enforcement to fully support the prosecution of the passenger involved.”
“Management suspended the crew as a knee-jerk reaction to a short video clip that did not show the full incident,” Ms Nelson added. “Management should be supporting the crew at this time, not suspending them.”
The arresting officers wrote in the criminal complaint that they had referred Mr Berry’s case to the FBI, but that the agency had declined to push felony charges against him.
But the Federal Aviation Administration has already this year fined several passengers tens of thousands of dollars for unruly behaviour amid mask requirements and other safety instructions.
The agency put a zero-tolerance policy into place earlier this year for assaulting or interfering with flight attendants with the possibility of fines up to $35,000 as well as jail time.
“Cabin crews are responsible for deciding how to respond to unruly-passenger incidents,” FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor told The New York Times.
The FAA said it has received 3.715 reports of unruly behaviour this year, including 2.729 reports of passengers refusing to wear masks.