LOS ANGELES -- Many of the more than 200 people convicted under airline anti-terrorism provisions of the 2001 USA Patriot Act engaged only in profanity or drunken behavior, not attempts to hijack a plane or commit violence, according to a report published Tuesday.
Those convicted include a Lakewood man accused of arguing with a flight attendant who believed he was indulging in sexual activity, and a woman who spanked her two children and angrily threw a can at the ground when confronted by a flight attendant, the Los Angeles Times said.
"We have gone completely berserk on this issue," said Charles Slepian, a New York security consultant. "These are not threats to national security or threats to aircraft, but we use that as an excuse."
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said convictions are pursued only when the facts and circumstances of a particular case warrant such action. Restraining such behavior has helped improve airline security, he said.
FAA regulations have long given flight crews wide discretion in controlling unruly behavior. The Patriot Act, passed within two months of the Sept. 11 attacks, gave law enforcement sweeping new powers.
One provision defines disruptive behavior on an airline as a terrorist act. Another broadened existing criminal law so any attempt or conspiracy to interfere with a flight crew became a felony.
Carl Persing of Lakewood said he was just resting his head because of illness in the lap of his girlfriend on a 2006 flight to Raleigh, N.C., but the FBI said the couple engaged in a variety of sexual activities.
A flight attendant said in an affidavit she twice asked them to stop, and Persing responded, "Get out of my face," and later said, "You and I are going to have a serious confrontation when we get off this plane."
Persing denied making the statement, but the couple was arrested. Charges were later dropped against his girlfriend, but Persing was sentenced to 12 months probation.