Patterico's Pontifications

1/22/2009

L.A. Times Has Substantially Misleading Story on the Patriot Act and Unruly Airline Passengers

Filed under: Air Security,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 11:12 pm

At a tremendous blog that I just learned about today, a former federal prosecutor named Ken absolutely rips apart an overwrought L.A. Times story about the Patriot Act as applied to unruly airline passengers.

I want you to go there and read the whole thing, because the post is admirably well written and documented. It’s a post that I would have been very proud to write, and I don’t say that sort of thing often. The author knows what he’s talking about, and just jams the evidence down the newspaper’s throat.

The post discusses a case described by The Times as follows:

Tamera Jo Freeman was on a Frontier Airlines flight to Denver in 2007 when her two children began to quarrel over the window shade and then spilled a Bloody Mary into her lap.

She spanked each of them on the thigh with three swats. It was a small incident, but one that in the heightened anxiety after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would eventually have enormous ramifications for Freeman and her children.

A flight attendant confronted Freeman, who responded by hurling a few profanities and throwing what remained of a can of tomato juice on the floor.

We’re told how her life has been ruined by the hysteria following September 11.

As Ken painstakingly documents with specific references to court documents that he accessed (and that Times reporters seem to have ignored), the woman was seen by numerous passengers engaged in violent behavior towards the children over an extended period of time. Ken extensively quotes from the affidavit in support of the complaint, which says things like this:

Tamera Freeman appeared intoxicated and violent towards her children before she boarded the flight in San Francisco;

. . . .

When denied further alcohol, Freeman threw a drink on the ground at FA Fleming. At one point, Freeman followed FA Fleming into a common area and began yelling and pointing her finger at FA Fleming.

. . . .

In the San Francisco airport prior to the departure of the flight, [passenger] Katie Shanahan observed Freeman drop her son on his back and head on the ground when he did not want to go to the bathroom with her. Freeman left her son on the ground crying for several minutes;

Another passenger describes Freeman hitting her children “over and over”; another says he “heard Freeman hitting her children ‘the entire flight’, to the point where the children were trying to hide in a comer and on the floor;” and another passenger says he saw her “hit her children with a closed fist during the flight.” It goes on and on like that.

At the end of the post, Ken says he had not yet pulled documents on another case described by The Times.

Don’t bother, Ken. I got your back.

Later in the article, we are told about a man who was not arrested even though he tried to open an emergency exit in mid-flight. The article then says:

Such was not the case with Carl Persing and Dawn Sewell, a Lakewood couple who never left their seats during the 2006 incident aboard a Southwest flight to Raleigh, N.C., that led to their arrests and four days in jail.

FBI and local investigators in Raleigh alleged that the couple engaged in a variety of sexual activities during the flight. At one point, according to an FBI affidavit, Persing was “observed with his face pressed against Sewell’s vaginal area. During these actions, Sewell was observed smiling.”

A flight attendant twice asked them to stop, according to the affidavit, and Persing responded, “Get out of my face,” and later, “You and I are going to have a serious confrontation when we get off this plane.”

But he denied making a threat. He said he did not feel well because of a chemotherapy drug and had put his head in Sewell’s lap. “We were kind of confused why he was waking us up, why he wouldn’t let me sleep,” he said in a recent interview.

Charges were dropped against Sewell, but Persing, who had never been arrested before, was sentenced to 12 months’ probation.

The paper makes it sound as though Persing’s innocent explanation might be credible. This suggestion omits a few facts, which (like Ken) I learned through the simple expedient of conducting a search of the court file, which is freely available to the general public on the Internet through the PACER system — and could have been accessed by the reporters who wrote this story.

In telling us that Persing was just napping on his girlfriend’s lap, the paper fails to mention that there was a jury trial in this matter. Twelve members of the community found Persing guilty of interfering with the flight attendant’s duties — an unlikely result if he was truly just napping. Evidently, the innocent explanation offered to The Times by Persing was rejected by a unanimous jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

But there’s more. According to the affidavit quoted by the paper, the couple was kissing and making out immediately preceding the alleged “head in the lap” incident — and this happened more than once:

While on the ground in Phoenix, PERSING and SEWELL were observed by Flight Attendant 1 (FA-1), Flight Attendant 2 (FA-2) and other passengers, embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable. PERSING was observed nuzzling or kissing SEWELL on the neck, and around the collarbone in the vicinity of her breast. PERSING was also observed with his face pressed against SEWELL’s vaginal area. During these actions, SEWELL was observed smiling.

(6) Upon witnessing this activity, FA-1, while PERSING had his face pressed against SEWELL’s vaginal area, instructed PERSING and SEWELL to end this activity. SEWELL nodded to FA-1 and the two complied.

(7) While in flight to RDU, PERSING and SEWELL re-initiated the previously described actions that made other passengers uncomfortable. FA-1 again approached PERSING and SEWELL and instructed them to end this behavior.

This is where Persing’s threatening behavior began:

Observed by a passenger in a nearby seat, PERSING pointed and shook his finger at FA-1 and said: “I’m going to give you one warning to get out of my face!” PERSING repeated this statement to FA-1. FA-1 informed PERSING and SEWELL that he would be reporting their behavior to the Captain.

This statement — already repeated for emphasis — was not the only threat, according to the affidavit. The document goes on to describe how, during the complimentary beverage service, Persing and Sewell were refused alcoholic beverages because of their earlier behavior. According to the affidavit, Persing responded by saying, “there is going to be a serious confrontation between you and me.” According to the affidavit, Sewell also demanded alcohol and was refused. Then, the affidavit alleges, Persing said: “I’m 44 years old and you’re just a punk.”

An order written by the trial judge after the trial tells us:

Throughout the flight, Defendant made obscene gestures toward McCabe (FA-1 from the affidavit) and called him names. McCabe testified that Defendant appeared intoxicated, as he was glassy eyed, slouched, and his speech was slurred.

McCabe called Captain James Kniese, who was located in the cockpit, several times during the flight to report Defendant’s behavior. In response to McCabe’s initial phone calls, Captain Kniese discussed the possibility of diverting the plane with his co-pilot.

Here is more from the affidavit. As you read, marvel at the article’s claim that the couple “never left their seats”:

Later in the flight, SEWELL approached FA-1 in the galley area and wanted to know if anyone would be waiting for them when they arrived at RDU. FA-1 informed SEWELL that SWA and law enforcement officials would be waiting. SEWELL told FA-1, that if law enforcement was waiting, PERSING “would not go quietly.”

. . . .

After being denied alcohol by FA-1, SEWELL went to the rear of the aircraft to complain and sought service of alcohol from FA-2 and Flight Attendant 3 (FA-3). During one of these contacts, SEWELL stated that she worked for an attorney and it was law that the flight crew had to serve them alcohol if requested. FA-3 informed her that SWA reserved the right to deny service of alcohol to anyone they deemed appropriate. SEWELL appeared not [to] accept this information and continued to request to be served alcohol. Neither FA-2 nor FA-3 provided alcohol to SEWELL.

. . . .

Due to the concerns of the flight crew, the Captain decided to activate the fasten seat belt sign in order to keep PERSING and SEWELL in their seats and prevent any further confrontation. During the de[s]cent into RDU, while the fasten seat belt sign was activated, SEWELL approached FA-1 in the galley and asked for a piece of paper. FA-1 instructed SEWELL to immediately return to her seat as the fasten seat belt sign was activated. Ignoring the instructions of the flight crew member, she bypassed her seat and went directly to the rear of the aircraft.

Never left their seats?

The affidavit says that towards the end of the flight, the threats were repeated yet again:

As FA-1 was passing PERSING and SEWELL’s seat, PERSING stated: “you and I are gonna have some serious confrontation when we get off this plane.” FA-1 asked PERSING to repeat his comment and he again stated, “you and I are gonna have some serious confrontation when we get off this plane.”

That marks the fifth time Persing uttered a threat to the flight attendant.

From the judge’s order, we learn that the flight attendant spent much of the flight looking over his shoulder, worried that Persing was going to carry out his threats. When the plane landed, the need for law enforcement interviews delayed the next flight.

The Fourth Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, tells us:

Our review of the record leads us to conclude that Persing’s comments to the flight attendant amounted to true threats, which are not protected by the First Amendment.

This is hardly the innocent misunderstanding reported by the paper.

As Ken said regarding the initial case described by the paper, “this account cost me pennies and took me a few minutes to find and download.” The statement that the couple never left their seats is pure hokum. The idea that Persing was simply resting his head ignores the observations of numerous people who said that the couple was engaged in sexual activity and kissing more than once, and acting in a drunken and hostile manner when asked to stop.

The article has a story line, and the reporters and editors are apparently bound and determined to stick with it — and to hell with the facts revealed in court documents.

I’m finding it harder and harder to feel sympathy for this newspaper as it continues to descend into financial ruin and irrelevance. Good riddance.

P.S. If you’ve read this far and still haven’t read Ken’s post, read it now. And bookmark his blog, Popehat. It looks like a good one.

47 Responses to “L.A. Times Has Substantially Misleading Story on the Patriot Act and Unruly Airline Passengers”

  1. I don’t begrudge anyone a private plane, if they can afford one with their own money.

    Adriane (6cae82)

  2. Let me get this straight. The LA Times shredded the Constitution, in print, not Boooosh, in reality.

    That Rove, he’s everywhere!

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  3. Well, I suppose you could forward this to the attention of Jamie Gold, but I am sure you would get the usual brush-off. What was the old line attributed to Horace Greeley: When the legend is better than the facts, print the legend.

    JVW (bff0a4)

  4. Maybe someday L.A. will get an actual NEWSpaper. But I doubt it. Excellent post.

    Peg C. (48175e)

  5. I happened across this article yesterday. Prior to the time that I made this blog a daily read, I would have been shocked and grateful at the prosecution of that poor woman.

    Instead, I took it with a grain of salt, hoping that you would discuss it. Your exposes of the Dog Trainer have trained me well, too.

    aunursa (e9b1f7)

  6. Whoops: Prior to the time that I made this blog a daily read, I would have been shocked and grateful at the prosecution of that poor woman.

    aunursa (e9b1f7)

  7. Damn, strikeout isn’t working.

    aunursa (e9b1f7)

  8. Schadenfreude forever!!!!!!

    Obama über alles!!!!! (48dd5e)

  9. Obviously this is just one of the many “changes” that need to be made. The MSM is below contemptable in its propaganda against protecting America.

    krusher (c0e5cd)

  10. Thanks for the shoutout. And great job exposing the Times’ piss-poor job fact-checking Persing’s story.

    Ken (ac07c4)

  11. We’ve seen instances where the airlines criminalize their customer service failures. But these incidents clearly are not among them.

    Good thing these journalists have all these editors.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  12. This is near the end of the article:

    I am reliably informed that Keith Olbermann, in apparent credulous reliance on the L.A. Times story, named Frontier Airlines its runner-up “Worst Person in the World” based on this. Not inspiring.

    Gerald A (adb85a)

  13. The LA Times is just reporting the story, not claiming it’s true.

    MayBee (5b642f)

  14. Since my wife works as a flight attendent for many years now at American, you can imagine where my sympathies lie in this case. The crap they have to put with from passengers (both in coach and 1st Class) is amazing – more than once they’ve been forced to get out their plastic handcuffs on unruly passengers, and I wonder why that action wasn’t taken in either of these cases. In both instances it would’ve been more than justified, and their primary responsibility is the safety of the other passengers and the plane itself – you have to be proactive in the reality that this type of behavior will quickly spiral out of control.

    Dmac (eb0dd0)

  15. Mr. Greenfield over at Simple Justice gives a great contrarian argument about this case but still agrees with Patterico that the article has an agenda.
    The journalists at LAT could have done a better job with the facts and still pushed their agenda couldn’t they?

    I don’t know enough about how plea agreements work so this is a question for all the lawyers.
    Could the bad side of the Patriot Act angle in Ms Freeman’s case be in the sealed details of the plea agreement? For example could the prosecutors say “we COULD charge you with an act of terrorism and you will go to jail for X years but if you will just sign this confession we can cut that down to 3 months served and some probation”
    If the above is plausible then do any of you consider that a good use of a set of laws meant to protect us from people flying planes into buildings?

    EdWood (46b92f)

  16. Thank you for cutting through the crap. Excellent post.

    Joe (17aeff)

  17. I “knew” these stories were bogus even before Patterico’s post. It seems to me that the hardest person to frame or railroad would be a passenger on a plane. Maybe the stewardesses can conspire to make up a story but the witness list is already prepared for the defense attorney complete with seat assignments.

    nk (bf9c84)

  18. I am reliably informed that Keith Olbermann, in apparent credulous reliance on the L.A. Times story, named Frontier Airlines its runner-up “Worst Person in the World” based on this. Not inspiring.

    I am reasonably informed that Olbermann’s mom was even worse than the mother on this plane. Which explains a lot about Olbermann.

    Joe (17aeff)

  19. Could the bad side of the Patriot Act angle in Ms Freeman’s case be in the sealed details of the plea agreement? For example could the prosecutors say “we COULD charge you with an act of terrorism and you will go to jail for X years but if you will just sign this confession we can cut that down to 3 months served and some probation”
    If the above is plausible then do any of you consider that a good use of a set of laws meant to protect us from people flying planes into buildings?

    EdWood, that’s highly unlikely. The USAO charged her with the counts it could, and the plea agreement was a routine one — a plea to the top count and a lenient sentencing recommendation. I’m not aware of any other charge they could have brought. The USA PATRIOT Act angle, in my opinion, is mostly spin.

    Ken (c97a0c)

  20. My brother keeps reminding me that the newspapers in the mid 19th century were full of political cheerleading, outright lies, and attempts to propagandize.

    I think that a New York Times editorial of the period called Abraham Lincoln an “ape” at one point.

    The difference, my brother told me, was that there were MANY newspapers during that era—New York City had five or six.

    So in that sense, perhaps blogging is the equivalent. And it is true. Blogs often do go over the top about things, and we don’t get irritated too much. But then blogs never claim to be impartial (which is why Patterico’s dissection of bias at the LA Times is so remarkable). The MSM does claim to be impartial.

    I think that the standard MSM is slowly dying off. It will be interesting to see what replaces it.

    Eric Blair (3e2520)

  21. I think I have an explanation for this. I heard the other day some breathless enviromentalist claiming that the internet is a big part of the coming destruction of the planet. The claim was made that, “Doing just two Google searches uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle of water for tea!”
    These reporters are only trying to save the Earth by cutting back on their extravagant research.

    Have Blue (974cdf)

  22. It will be interesting to see what replaces it.

    Comment by Eric Blair — 1/23/2009 @ 8:16 am
    Patterico’s Pontification.
    Great Post!

    Emperor7 (0c8c2c)

  23. Who exactly is the L.A. Times working for? Osama Bin Laden?

    Emperor7 (0c8c2c)

  24. Who exactly is the L.A. Times working for? Osama Bin Laden?

    Well, if big-city dailies are going begging to foreign billionaires for bailouts, perhaps the Dog Trainer and the Bin Laden family are a good fit.

    JVW (bff0a4)

  25. Comment by JVW — 1/23/2009 @ 10:53 am

    Except the binLaden family has a history of engaging in business ventures that make money.
    Why would they ever consider owning a terminal disaster such as the Dog Trainer?
    Hey, maybe they’re Cubs fans?

    AD (fbe62c)

  26. Frontier should sue MSNBC and Olbermann.

    I’m grateful for the work you all did on this, but I admit to a bit of sadness.
    I used to get up at 5:30AM, grab the paper(s) and read the local one while *ahem* getting ready, and then heading out to a coffee shop for two eggs and coffee and reading the LA Times and catching up on what was going on out there in the world.
    That is gone now. I rarely buy the LA Times and I only keep the local paper to keep track of local politics and its associated nonsense (where did my tax dollars go?)

    SteveG (a87dae)

  27. This story brings back memories of the “Flying Imams’” lawsuit against U.S. Airways, which as of July, 2008 was in the discovery stage, with the plaintiffs’ lawyer asking for the airlines security and training manuals. Definitely an iffy idea given the counsel also represents CAIR. I haven’t seen anything new on the status of that litigation since.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  28. #20. Thank you for the info Ken. I probably watch too much Law and Order etc.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  29. Great article, Ken. You too, Patterico.

    Does anyone know how to get in touch with Dmac?

    JD (5ffaf3)

  30. JD, if you ask the host for my personal e – mail, it’s OK by me. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know of another way to do it – Eric tried to get in touch with me a few months ago, and we couldn’t work it out for some reason.

    Dmac (eb0dd0)

  31. Comment by JD — 1/23/2009 @ 2:21 pm

    Look for a drool trail. It will lead you to him. :)

    Emperor7 (0c8c2c)

  32. Emp, are you saying you… nah.

    John Hitchcock (fb941d)

  33. I am the other half of the “Mile High Couple”. The purpose of the LA Times article was not to challenge what alledgedly happened on that flight, but to show how the patriot act is being abused. The charges against me were dismissed due to lack of evidence. It brings me to wonder how my husband was convicted of aiding and abetting when he was the only one convicted. In addition, he was convicted of interfering with flight crew and their duties but the flight crew testified they had completed their duties AHEAD of schedule. Because of the Patriot Act flight attendants have been empowered to the level of law enforcement, but without any training. I will stand by Carl forever. He was wrongly convicted. We were accused of actions that would never even cross our minds. Most of the evidence that Carl’s attorneys, as well as my attorneys, was not allowed to be seen or heard by the jury, but almost ALL of the evidence presented by the prosecutor WAS allowed to be heard. Does that sound like a fair trial? Our justice system is NOT perfect. There are innocent people in prison and guilty people on the streets. Carl is one of those people wrongly convicted and because of that our lives will be changed forever.

    Dawn Persing (646475)

  34. Hi, Dmac….I think that was during a complicated period with a person at another blog.

    IF Patterico wants to share my e-mail with you, Dmac, that is fine, but I feel badly asking him to do more than he already does.

    Eric Blair (c8876d)

  35. Emp, are you saying you… nah.

    Must be off her Lithium again.

    Dmac (eb0dd0)

  36. Notice Dawn just merrily skips right over those annoying little facts that get in the way of the narrative?

    Dmac – Email me at johndallen at sbcglobal dot net. We are trying to get a group of us together Tuesday night in Chicago.

    JD (5ffaf3)

  37. [...] NOT A ONE. That does not stop the stupid moves, tv shows, protests and the lies from the media. Via Patterico.com comes an LA Times story with the headline: “In-Flight Confrontations Can Lead To Charges Defined [...]

    War and Pieces: why I can’t stand the left. « Chockblock’s blog (725c82)

  38. Does that sound like a fair trial?

    The question is moot – but you obviously skipped over the reality of acting abusive and potentially violent in an enclosed metal tube along with another 120+ unwilling people – flying is a privilege, not a right. Perhaps you understand that fact at this point in your life.

    Dmac (eb0dd0)

  39. #18 nk:

    but the witness list is already prepared for the defense attorney complete with seat assignments.

    nk, I must confess that I have never thought of a passenger manifest quite that way, before.

    EW1(SG) (e27928)

  40. And probably home addresses and contact info.

    The original AD (previously known as Another Drew) (fbe62c)

  41. The most amazing part of your post is that you didn’t know about Popehat. Popehat rules! Although I’m kind of angry with Patrick for ruining my ability to get any work done.

    Linus (89636a)

  42. Hey Dawn,

    My wife & I have flown the airlines about 5 times a year for the last 20 years but we have never been arrested or even had an unpleasant word with a flight crew. Be glad I wasn’t your flight. I would have taught your husband some manners. Your made up after the fact stories like the one you gave on John & Ken just don’t wash. Next time, rent a room.

    Stan Switek (7cfd24)

  43. Comment by MayBee — 1/23/2009 @ 7:36 am
    The LA Times is just reporting the story, not claiming it’s true.

    – That’s right; there’s a BIG difference between facts and fairy-tale.

    Icy Texan (b7d162)

  44. I can attest to the fact that the courts sometimes get things wrong and innocent people are found guilty. Years ago I was coming out of a store carrying a 40# bag of dog food. Someone left a cart outside and I walked into it, sending it rolling toward the curb. A car was parked in the firelane and the cart hit it.I recovered my balance, glanced at cart and car and saw no harm done, put my bag in the cart and continued on my way. No big deal right? Cart rolled the width of the side walk and no damage apparent. No people in sight and no one stopped me as I walked to my car- almost at the end of the row. That evening a “Mr. Smith” calls my house and wants $500.00 for damages to his car- I of course refuse to pay. I never did figure out how he got my number. He declined to say.
    Bottom line?? I get summoned to court and accused of willfully running MY cart into this guys car. He has witnesses, he is wearing a leg brace and using crutches. He SAW me VIOLENTLY shove this cart into his car. On purpose and with the intent to damage his vehicle. Witnesses agree even tho I do not remember seeing any of these people in the store (small pet food shop). Owner doesn’t remember them either but won’t come to court. All Ive got is a receipt for 40lbs of dog food and the above story. I told judge just as I have written- didn’t see cart, or leave it in front of the store, accidently knocked it foward, and certainly did not purposefully ram it into anyone’s car. Didn’t matter that the guy was illegally parked either. I lost and had to pay a 90 dollar fine for a misdeameaner conviction. Judge did not allow the plaintiff any damages however. The kicker- as I leave the courthouse after paying this fine for something I did not do who do you think I saw throwing his crutches into the back of a van (and the “witnesses” getting into said van) The Plaintiff!! Walking just fine and sprinting for the drivers door when I called out “Mr. Smith stop”!!
    I never heard from him again although in court he did state he would sue me civilly.
    My point is I did nothing except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hindsight leads me to think “Mr. Smith” saw a golden opportunity to get some quick cash and knew how the system works. Im sure a transcript of this case would look awful for me- but it was all lies. So I do not trust our legal system 100% and I know it can be manipulated to convict innocent people. Maybe not always but it does happen. I was 22 years old at the time but I can still remember how shocked I was that the truth did not prevail.

    coppermine (329567)

  45. The Civil system is all screwed up. I had to pay 17K to make something go away when I was the party who should have won 30K.

    Why?

    Even if I spent the money to win, the douche bag and his douche bag lawyer had no money so where was I going to collect?

    All scum lawyers involved of course. Sorry Coppermine.

    Obama über alles!!!!! (48dd5e)

  46. dont see anythign weird about it.

    lost car keys (f5453f)


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