AG Garland orders more aggressive strategy for mile high crimes in memo to Justice Dept.


Egregious examples of bad behavior described by the FAA on Wednesday concerned passengers yelling profanities, using obscene gestures, making threats to flight crew, refusing to abide by mask mandates, and physically assaulting or hurting flight attendants. (Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — To kick off the holiday travel season, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland is encouraging a more aggressive strategy in the Justice Department to handle mile high crimes.

In a memo sent to U.S. Attorneys and published by the USDOJ, Garland ordered prosecutors to focus on federal crimes that occur on commercial aircraft and “endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.”

Federal law already bans assaults, intimidation, and violent threats that can get in the way of flight crews and attendants doing their jobs. The memo from Garland sent Wednesday spelled out the creation of a new way to share information between the DOJ and Federal Aviation Administration to send incident reports to federal agents for investigation.

Going forward, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will receive incident reports from the FAA to investigate.

The memo from the attorney general said dozens of incidents have already been sent over following the creation of the new information-sharing protocol.

AG Garland is making the investigation and prosecution of these midair crimes a departmental priority for the DOJ.

“I am directing United States Attorneys to prioritize prosecution of federal crimes occurring on commercial aircraft that endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants,” Garland wrote. “I am further directing United States Attorneys to communicate to the relevant federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial prosecutorial authorities and law enforcement agencies (including airport authority law enforcement) in their districts that this is a Departmental priority.”

Under the new information protocol, Garland said appropriate agencies should be made aware of incidents as soon as possible within a proceeding 20 day period.

The initiative follows an increased effort by the FAA to deal with unruly passengers, a problem that has gotten more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, investigations of unruly passengers increased fivefold compared to the year before, according to the FAA.

On Nov. 4, the agency announced that they’d be referring the worst cases to the FBI for investigation and potential prosecution. Now, Garland has ordered the DOJ to take a similar tack with the new information-sharing protocol.

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