Federal authorities are charging a Texas woman, who they say assaulted a flight attendant on a flight to San Francisco, with interfering with an aircraft, which could land her in prison for 20 years if convicted.
Debby Dutton, 50, of Cypress, Texas, appeared in court in Houston on Friday where federal prosecutors are attempting to have Dutton face her charges in federal court in San Francisco, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California said in a statement.
According to the criminal complaint, Dutton and her husband were passengers on board a United Airlines flight from Alaska headed to San Francisco on June 29. About three and a half hours into the flight, a flight attendant collecting trash from passengers noticed the face mask being worn by Dutton's husband, who was asleep, had fallen off. At the time, the federal mask mandate for airlines was put in place through Sept. 13. That mandate has since been extended through Jan. 18, 2022.
The flight attendant tapped the shoulder of Dutton's husband and asked him to put his face mask back on, to which he complied. However, authorities say Dutton got up from her seat next to her husband and shouted at the flight attendant for touching her husband. The flight attendant tried to explain to Dutton that her husband was not wearing his mask, but she continuously shouted at the flight attendant while walking toward them.
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Dutton then allegedly pushed the flight attendant multiple times as the flight attendant asked her to stop, only to do so when her husband asked her to return to her seat, according to the criminal complaint.
The flight attendant, who said the altercation left them with bruising on their right bicep, reported what happened to the captain and "was caught off guard and felt threatened and afraid." The flight attendant described the incident as painful and sought medical attention once the flight landed, prosecutors said.
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After the flight landed, federal authorities interviewed the flight attendant and multiple passengers about what they saw.
Dutton's alleged assault is one of many instances of unruly passengers on airlines, which saw a dramatic increase ever since the federal mask mandate was put in place.
On Nov. 10, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it had proposed an additional $201,287 in civil penalties against 10 passengers for alleged physical assaults. At the time, the FAA said there have been 5,114 unruly passenger incidents this year, 73% of which were mask-related and over 100 which included instances of physical assault.
One passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight to Texas on Saturday was arrested by the Dallas Police Department after officers said the passenger had a verbal altercation with a staff member and then punched another staff member in the head, which resulted in the employee being taken to a nearby hospital.
Dutton is being charged with one count of interference of a flight crew or attendants by assault, threat or intimidation, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine. Dutton, who is out of custody, is scheduled to make her next court appearance in Houston on Tuesday.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Woman faces up to 20 years in prison for alleged assault on flight