A man returning from Haiti who walked through a restricted door and set off an alarm that led to the evacuation of a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport simply went the wrong way, his attorney said Sunday.
"He just walked through the wrong door," said defense attorney Scott Dufault, who declined to comment further when reached by phone at his office following his client's arraignment.
The security breach on Saturday afternoon delayed dozens of flights and caused headaches for hundreds of travelers who had to exit the terminal and wait for hours while police swept through the building. Passengers were then re-screened by Transportation Security Administration officers. The incident came less than two weeks after a security breach at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
The man, Jules Paul Bouloute, told police he went through the door by mistake, an official familiar with the investigation into the security breach told The Associated Press on Sunday. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the case against the Brooklyn man and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Bouloute, 57, was arraigned Sunday on charges including first-degree criminal tampering and third-degree criminal trespass, said Helen Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney. He didn't enter a plea and was released without bail. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.
Prosecutors allege that he went through a door that was clearly marked as restricted.
"As a result of the defendant's actions, thousands of people were required to evacuate and to be re-screened by TSA, causing substantial delays in the airlines' schedules," District Attorney Richard A. Browne said in a statement.
Bouloute's home phone number was unlisted, and there was no answer at his door, in a Brooklyn neighborhood of two- and three-story brick row houses where many Haitians live.
A neighbor, Saul Sanon, said he thought Bouloute went back and forth to Haiti a few times a year but said he doesn't know him that well.
"He's not a bad person," Sanon said. "I don't know exactly what happened. I think he just made a mistake. Probably he was affected by the situation in Haiti."
Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the area airports, said the agency was reviewing security procedures and reaching out to airlines to make sure security protocols were being followed. He said the terminal where the incident took place was used by American Airlines.
American Airlines spokesman Charlie Wilson declined to comment on security issues because of the ongoing investigation.
The incident is the third evacuation in five months at airports that serve New York City.
A Rutgers University graduate student from China, Haisong Jiang, 28, was charged last week with trespassing in the Jan. 3 breach at the Newark airport. Flights were grounded for hours and passengers were re-screened while air safety officials searched for a man who had walked through the exit of a security checkpoint.
Jiang's arraignment is set for Jan. 28 in Newark.
A friend, Ning Huang, said he's known Jiang for years and Jiang is "a very good person" who didn't realize the ramifications of his actions.
In August, a terminal at LaGuardia was evacuated after police tackled a disturbed man who was carrying a device that looked like a bomb but turned out to be harmless.