Bay Area man convicted of assault over reclining airline seat

Posted Apr 1, 2016 by Nathan Salant
A San Francisco Bay Area man was convicted Wednesday of assaulting an airline passenger aboard a delayed flight from Los Angeles after he became enraged when the victim reclined the back of her seat.
AWAY: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off from San Jose International Airport in California in 2007.
AWAY: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off from San Jose International Airport in California in 2007.
Dylan Ashe / Wikimedia Commons
Lawrence Wells Jr., 54, of Richmond faces up to six months in prison when he is sentenced in June for choking and striking the woman on a Southwest Airlines flight to San Francisco last year.
Wells was convicted in federal court of misdemeanor assault for his conduct, which forced the pilot to turn the plane around and return to Los Angeles, where air marshals removed him from the plane, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
But the U.S. Central District court jury acquitted Wells of the more-serious charge of felony assault causing serious bodily injury.
Wells and the victim were passengers on Southwest Flight 2010 on Oct. 18, 2015, which took off more than three hours late due to issues with boarding and the airport tarmac.
The victim reclined her seat during the hours-long wait and Wells complained to flight attendants, who directed that the seat back be returned to its upright position.
The victim complied, but then lowered her seat back shortly after takeoff.
Wells then reached around the victim's seat and choked her for a few seconds before hitting her in the head, the newspaper said.
“Defendant’s violent reaction to the frustrations of air travel was beyond the bounds of civilized behavior,” the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Eileen Deckeshe, said in a written statement.
“The victim was fortunate that she did not suffer greater injuries, because she had no way to defend herself from this defendant’s attack,” she said.
But the victim did testify that she suffered a concussion, persistent nausea, dizziness, headaches, neck pain, loss of appetite, significant anxiety and ringing in her ear, and other symptoms after the assault.
Wells' attorney, Alan Eisner, said the Richmond man accepted responsibility and offered to plead guilty before the case went to trial, but not to the felony charge.
"We feel that the jury vindicated our position, and we are relieved about that," Eisner said.
"They found that it was not serious bodily injury and we argued that from the get-go,” he said.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 27.