A former JetBlue flight attendant accused of cursing out an airplane passenger and then sliding down an emergency exit chute to get away from his job appeared in a New York City courtroom today -- but his case was adjourned until next month.
Steven Slater was appearing on criminal mischief charges. Sources tell NBCNewYork that Slater has agreed to be evaluated by a mental health professional. The plea deal would mean Slater goes to anger management classes, and alcohol abuse counseling. Upon completion, the DA would either lower the charges to misdemeanors, violations or drop the charges entirely.
Slater was charged with reckless endangerment and trespassing after last month's meltdown aboard a JetBlue Airways Corp. flight from Pittsburgh that had just landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. His lawyer has said the passenger's "lack of civility'' prompted his behavior.
Defense attorney Daniel J. Horwitz says Slater is looking forward to putting the incident behind him.
"We've had some discussions with the D.A. We hope to continue those discussions to favorably resolve this matter for Mr. Slater. He'd like to move on with his life, " said Horwitz, Slater's attorney.
Slater became water cooler talk for days after his Aug. 9 meltdown. Online groups canonized him as a hero or vilified him as a cranky brat.
He left JetBlue last week.
"The evaluation – and possible participation – is, as I said, occurring at the defendant’s request and represents in my opinion, a recognition of the seriousness of that which occurred," D.A. Richard Brown said in a statement.
"I'm looking ultimately to find a means and a disposition over here that both balances the seriousness of the charges against the needs of the defendant," said Brown.
Slater was working on Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to Kennedy Airport, which landed at around 12 p.m. when he got into a verbal altercation with a passenger -- a now legendary exploit, which has even been immortalized in a CGI video by the same Taiwanese company that make the Tiger Woods and Al Gore animations.
Following a heated exchange, the flight attendant told off the entire plane on the public address system, activated an emergency chute near the back of the plane and jumped down the evacuation slide and ran for it.
The Assistant District Attorney said the altercation began before the plane left Pittsburgh, when two passengers got in an argument over an oversized piece of luggage and the overhead compartments.
At the arraignment, defense attorney Howard Turman said Slater was under stress because his mother has lung cancer. Afterward, he provided reporters with a different account of what happened aboard the aircraft than the version initially offered by authorities.
Police had said Slater became angry when after a rule-breaking passenger defied requests to stay seated then accidentally hit him in the head with her luggage.
Turman said the dispute had begun earlier, when the flight was still waiting to take off from Pittsburgh, when two female passengers got into an argument over space in the overhead bins. That's when Slater was struck in the head, Turman said.
The dispute flared up again after the plane landed in New York when one of the women, who had been asked to gate-check her bag, was enraged that it wasn't immediately available.
After a verbal altercation, Slater grabbed some beer from the galley before he took the plunge and then headed for the AirTrain, where other passengers from the flight reportedly saw him on the way home.
Slater was later arrested at his home in Belle Harbor by Port Authority officials. Police sources said that when authorities found Slater he seemed to be in the midst having sexual relations.
As a result of the incident, Slater became something of a pop-culture celebrity, hailed as a champion by people who live lives of quiet desperation and frustration at jobs they hate.
That, however, did not stop the Queens District Attorney from filing criminal charges: Prosecutors said the emergency escape slide deploys at 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and "causes a risk of serious physical injury or death if it strikes people working under the aircraft." They also said the cost to replace the escape slide is $25,000, according to Jet Blue security.
But no one was injured in the incident and JetBlue, in a statement, added, "At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk."
Slater, a 38-year-old airline veteran who lives steps from the Queens beach a few miles from the airport, had been flying long enough to see much of the gleam of the air travel experience tarnished by frayed nerves, rising fees, plummeting airline profits and packed cabins.
Slater will appear back in court on October 19th. His attorney today said Slater was ready to "put this behind him," adding he has been spending time in California with his mother, who is "terminally ill."