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Woman Gets 4 Months After Shoving Flight Attendant, Spitting on a Passenger

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A Recent York woman was sentenced to 4 months in federal prison after spitting on a passenger, then shoving a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight in February 2021, a 12 months that saw a record variety of incidents of unruly and violent behavior on airplanes.

Kelly Pichardo, a 32-year-old single mother who lives within the Bronx, was sentenced on Aug. 29 in U.S. District Court in Arizona, where Judge Dominic W. Lanza also ordered her to pay $9,123 in restitution. After her release from prison she can be placed on supervised release for 36 months, based on court documents.

“There may be a line between boorish behavior on an airplane and criminal activity, and the defendant clearly crossed it,” Gary Restaino, the United States attorney for the district of Arizona, said in an announcement.

Ms. Pichardo, who has a 12-year-old daughter and lives along with her mother, didn’t reply to requests for comment. She pleaded guilty in May to 1 count of interference with a flight crew member.

“Ms. Pichardo could be very ashamed of her actions on the plane that day,” her lawyer, Ana Botello, said in an email.

The altercation occurred as mask mandates and Covid-19 restrictions led to tension on airplanes, where unruly and violent passengers shoved, struck and yelled at flight attendants and other passengers.

In May 2021 a lady punched a flight attendant repeatedly, bloodying her face and chipping three of her teeth. Inside days of that attack, two major airlines, American and Southwest, which had temporarily stopped serving alcohol on flights in an effort to chop down on bad behavior, postponed plans to start serving it again. Each airlines have since resumed alcohol sales. The lady in that case was sentenced to fifteen months in prison.

Ms. Pichardo was flying top quality from Dallas to Los Angeles with a friend on Feb. 24, 2021, based on prosecutors and court documents that described the case.

The friend used a racial slur as they were talking, prompting a Black passenger who was sitting behind the 2 women to the touch Ms. Pichardo on the shoulder and admonish them.

Ms. Pichardo spit on the passenger, who suffered “racist abuse,” prosecutors said.

She became “much more irate” as other passengers tried to record the interaction with their cellphone cameras, based on court documents.

A flight crew member got here to defuse the situation, and Ms. Pichardo lunged at him and pushed him within the chest as she tried to maneuver past him.

The flight was diverted to Phoenix, where Ms. Pichardo and her friend were arrested. The friend was identified by prosecutors as Leeza Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty last month to interfering with a flight attendant, based on court documents. She can be sentenced in November.

Prosecutors really useful a four-month sentence for Ms. Pichardo, arguing that it could show the general public the implications of acting “unruly on airplanes.”

“That is incredibly essential now, with an uptick in these incidents over the past 12 months,” they wrote in a sentencing memorandum, which recommends what form of punishment a defendant should receive.

“With a rise in air travel this summer in comparison with years prior, there’s a risk of more of those incidents occurring nationwide,” prosecutors wrote.

Reports of unruly behavior by passengers began declining soon after a federal judge in Florida struck down a federal mask mandate on public transportation in April.

Ms. Pichardo’s lawyers asked Judge Lanza to sentence her to five years of probation, or to let her serve her sentence at home, noting that she has been employed at an area restaurant because the time of her arrest.

They said Ms. Pichardo had been sexually abused as a toddler and had a history of mental illness.

“It is a case where alcohol, the stresses of flying, and the proven fact that Ms. Pichardo, while constricted to her airplane seat, was touched by a stranger, brought up all of the sentiments she felt as an abused child and caused her to snap,” wrote Ms. Botello and one other lawyer, Jon M. Sands.

It shouldn’t be unusual for a defendant to get a troublesome sentence in a case like this, where passengers and flight crew members were attacked in a confined space, said Lisa Wayne, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The outrage over seeing flight attendants abused has also led prosecutors and judges to hunt stiff punishments against defendants accused of such crimes, she said.

“That is the worst time which you could have this type of case,” Ms. Wayne said.

But she questioned the aim of incarcerating Ms. Pichardo as an alternative of letting her serve a sentence at home where she could keep working and pay the fines imposed by the court.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-C.W.A., said sentences handed all the way down to defendants convicted of assault should function a deterrent “for bad actors within the air or airports.”

“Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders, not targets for berserk passengers,” she said in an announcement. “Assault is a federal crime in air travel. Period.”

A spokesman for American Airlines declined to comment on the sentence and referred to an announcement the corporate issued shortly after Ms. Pichardo’s arrest thanking crew members “for his or her professionalism in managing a difficult situation.”

Ms. Pichardo will begin serving her sentence on Oct. 28.

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