3-month sentence for Japan-Hawaii flight assault
- Article by: JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
- Associated Press
- July 29, 2014 - 5:25 PM
HONOLULU — A Japanese man received a three-month sentence Tuesday for a drunken altercation with flight attendants during a trip to Hawaii for his honeymoon.
Kenji Okamoto has been in federal custody since the May flight landed in Honolulu, missing his honeymoon that was to be spent at a luxury resort in east Honolulu, but allowing him to serve more than two months of his sentence. He's expected to be released in a few weeks and will return to Japan, said Salina Althof, his federal public defender.
Okamoto pleaded guilty last month to interfering with a flight attendant's duties by assaulting and intimidating him.
Okamoto, 30, of Kyoto, was flying first-class from Osaka when he got upset because a flight attendant wouldn't take his tray away, prosecutors said. The flight attendant told him he would return because his hands were full.
Okamoto became outraged, got out of his seat and went toward the flight attendant, who retreated in fear, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Hino said. Another flight attendant who attempted to intervene received bruises on his arm from trying to block Okamoto's punch, Hino said.
The Delta Air Lines flight crew told authorities that Okamoto later apologized while crying, remained calm for the remainder of the flight and eventually fell asleep, according to court documents.
After crew members restrained him in his seat, "Okamoto apologized for his actions by repeatedly saying 'I'm sorry' and bowed down on his knees and placed his head on the floor," the documents said.
Hino argued that the ordeal was dangerous, having taken place near the cockpit and involving a struggle with three flight attendants and a passenger. The pilot was informed of the situation and believed there was an emergency, Hino said.
But U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright said there's no strong evidence "that the aircraft was in danger through the defendant's conduct." He noted the flight wasn't diverted, and Okamoto made no threats.
Despite that, it was serious conduct driven by alcohol, Seabright said.
"In this alcohol blur, the defendant attempted to punch the flight attendant," he said. "It took some effort to get him under control and handcuffed."
Seabright said he doesn't blame the airline and alcohol isn't an excuse. But he also said, "The airlines need to become more responsible about the amount of alcohol served."
Seabright previously granted prosecutors' request to keep him detained without bail. Prosecutors argued there's a possible gang affiliation, by submitting photos of Okamoto with nearly full-body tattoos and providing information about a past conviction for assaulting a police officer in Japan. Okamoto owns a construction business, Hino said.
"There's absolutely no evidence of that," Althof said of the gang allegation. "In fact, the National Police Agency of Japan had no information on any affiliation between Mr. Okamoto and organized crime."
Seabright said the aircraft could have been in danger and the flight attendant could have suffered serious injury. But the judge said Okamoto seems like a hardworking business owner with a supportive family and wife.
"Although I suspect you have put unnecessary strain on the relationship when you engage in this conduct while on your way to your honeymoon," Seabright said.
The sentence includes a $3,000 fine and a $100 fee. The judge also agreed with Hino that the airline that is willing to take him back to Japan should be notified of the conviction and be asked not to serve Okamoto alcohol.
Through a Japanese interpreter, Okamoto apologized and begged the judge for leniency. He bowed his head twice.
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .
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