Three women have been arrested and two airport workers hospitalised after a vicious assault at John F Kennedy Airport.
Jordan Nixon and Janessa Torres, both 21, and Johara Zavala, 44, have been charged with brutally beating a gate agent and security guard at the busy New York airport last September – including with the guard’s own radio.
“As alleged, the defendants viciously assaulted an airline security officer by beating him to the floor with his radio and then kicking and punching him in the face and body while he was down,” US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “This Office has zero tolerance for violent conduct that threatens the safety of airline passengers and employees and will prosecute defendants who allegedly engage in such conduct to the fullest extent of the law.”
All three women have pleaded not guilty. A lawyer for Ms Nixon has denied the charges.
“My client maintains her innocence and she denies the allegations as delineated in the government’s indictment,” attorney Peter Guadagnino told The Independent. “She plead[ed] not guilty yesterday before Judge Scanlon... and we are waiting to see what discovery comes our way and what if anything is recorded with respect to the incident.”
Mr Guadagnino added that prosecutors in a Queens state court dismissed the case. Attorneys Jacob Barclay Mitchell, who is representing Ms Zavala, and Mia Eisner-Grynberg, who is representing Ms Torres, told The Independent they have no comment.
According to the Department of Justice, the incident began on the morning 22 September, 2021. The trio of friends were set to board an 8.10am Delta Air Lines plane to Puerto Rico, but their flight was delayed to 12.55pm. In the meantime, a bail conditions document says, they drank “approximately nine alcoholic beverages”.
When the women finally came to their gate, airport employees allegedly found them too drunk to board. The flight’s captain and another crew member “determined that all three defendants should be denied boarding because they were acting belligerent, one of the defendants was refusing to wear her mask properly, and Zavala was visibly disoriented and possibly intoxicated.”
A gate agent and a security guard (referred to in court documents as “Employee-1” and “Employee-2,” respectively) asked the women to leave. They would not be allowed on this plane, they explained, but were welcome to book another flight later that day.
That, reportedly, is when all hell broke loose.
“When Employee-2 asked the defendants to leave the jetway, they refused and proceeded to yell and curse at Employee-2,” the Department of Justice says. “Nixon began to tap on Employee-2’s head and removed his radio, which had been clipped on his person. Nixon then struck Employee-2 repeatedly with his radio as he struggled unsuccessfully to regain control of it.”
When the gate agent tried to help him, “Zavala punched Employee-1 in the face, which caused Employee-1 to return to the gate to request additional assistance. At or around the time that Employee-1 left, Employee-2 fell to the ground, and all three defendants hit and kicked Employee-2 with their feet and fists while he was on the floor. Torres stepped on the head and face of Employee-2, causing his upper lip to bleed.”
The bloodied security guard tried to get help from other crew members, but “the defendants pulled him back by his vest, tearing the vest apart,” according to authorities.
“The Flight crew was eventually able to pull Employee-2 behind the glass doors to the jetway, which the Flight crew had to hold shut to prevent further harm to Employee-2,” the bail document says. “The three defendants continued to scream and strike at the Flight crew as they attempted to hold the doors closed.”
Both employees were reportedly treated at a hospital for their injuries, and neither has returned to work.
Ms Nixon, Ms Torres, and Ms Zavala were all arrested on the day of the alleged attack. Each woman was released on a $25,000 bond, and none are allowed to travel outside New York City or Long Island. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison.
Violent incidents on airlines have skyrocketed in recent years, particularly since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a federal mask mandate went into effect on all US flights. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers in 2021. Of those, 4,290 were mask-related.
“The extreme and aggressive behavior in connection with our air travel is out of control,” US Attorney Peace said on Thursday.