When crew members refused to serve him a fourth drink on a flight to New Orleans, a Southwest Airlines passenger threatened to put one of them “in a body bag,” punched two policemen in the face after landing, and was shocked with stun guns before he was arrested, federal prosecutors said this week.
Joel Michael Bane, a martial arts trainer from New Jersey, pleaded guilty in New Orleans federal court Thursday to one count of interference with a flight crew.
He and prosecutors agreed that his punishment should be limited to probation, but U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo could give him up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of $250,000 if she disagrees.
Bane can withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial if Milazzo decides to sentence him to more than probation during a hearing scheduled for Dec. 13.
His attorney, Frank DeSalvo, described Bane as suffering from "totally permanent post-traumatic stress disorder" after having completed seven combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is a true American hero — a really, really good guy in a bad situation," DeSalvo said Friday. "The incident happened — it shouldn't have happened. I don't know whose fault it was, but we're moving on."
The trouble began on Oct. 13, when Bane downed three drinks on a roughly two-hour, 25-minute flight from Chicago to Louis Armstrong International Airport. Shortly before the plane was to land, he walked toward the front of the plane and asked two flight attendants for another drink, prosecutors wrote in a summary of the case signed by Bane.
The flight attendants told Bane they couldn’t serve any more booze so late in the flight, and one of them told him to sit down. But he grew angry, refused to sit and asked what the flight attendants would do about it, according to the summary.
One of the attendants reported the commotion to the plane’s pilot, who announced over the intercom that all passengers should sit down if they didn’t want “security to greet you when we land.”
“We’ll handle any customer issues that you may have when we land,” the pilot said. “Please take your seats now for safety. Thank you.”
Bane, prosecutors said, shot back, “That captain has no authority over me.” He continued refusing to sit, with at least one passenger recording video of him with a cellphone. That clip showed several people walking up to Bane in apparently fruitless attempts to calm him.
Bane told one of the attendants that he was a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He then said “the flight crew, including the captain, would be nothing for (him) to handle” and that he would put one of the attendants “in a body bag.”
After landing, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy and a levee district policeman boarded the plane. But he ignored Levee Police Captain Vincent Yetta’s commands to disembark, yelling, “Move me!”
Yetta unsuccessfully tried to push Bane toward the door. Instead, Bane, who the court documents note is "large and very muscular," pushed Yetta into a corner and then punched both him and Sheriff’s Office Deputy Carl Cade.
Other law enforcement officers rushed aboard. He shouted profanities and refused commands to get on the floor or put his hands behind his back, prosecutors said.
Officers finally shocked Bane with stun guns to arrest him.