SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A Texas woman accused of assaulting a flight attendant over mask wearing on an Anchorage, Alaska-to-San Francisco flght appeared in federal court Friday in Houston to face charges, authorities said.
Debby Dutton, 50, was a passenger aboard a June 29 United Airlines flight headed into SFO when authorities say she repeatedly yelled and pushed a flight attendant who had woken up her husband to ask him to put on his mask, according to a press release from Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie Hinds.READ MORE: Berkeley Police Arrest Convicted Sex Offender For Allegedly Accosting Teens, Claiming To Be Police Officer
The hearing in Houston is the first step in a procedure to obtain an order directing the Cypress, Texas resident to appear in San Francisco federal court to face a charge of interference with an aircraft flight by assault upon a flight attendant.
During the flight, crew members made multiple announcements about the federal mask mandate on commercial flights and advised passengers that if their masks fell off while they were asleep, a flight attendant will wake them up to put their masks back on.
According to the complaint, Dutton confronted a flight attendant who had walked down the aisle to collect trash and check passengers for mask compliance after the flight attendant woke up her sleeping husband by tapping on his shoulder. After the husband complied and the flight attendant continued down the aisle, Dutton got up and angrily shouted at the flight attendant, saying, “You don’t touch my husband, why you wake him!” the complaint said.READ MORE: Foster City Appoints 1st Minority Woman Mayor In 50-Year History
The flight attendant tried to explain the policy but Dutton allegedly continued to scream at and approach the flight attendant, forcefully pushing the attendant twice on the arm, according to the complaint. The flight attendant told Dutton to stop and Dutton’s husband asked her Dutton to return to her seat, which Dutton eventually did.
The flight attendant immediately reported the incident to the captain and later sought medical treatment for bruising to her right bicep. Police officers subsequently interviewed multiple passengers who were able to corroborate the flight attendant’s account.
Dutton is currently out of custody and was scheduled to appear in a Houston federal court on Tuesday. If convicted, she faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine, although any sentence following a conviction would take into account federal sentencing guidelines.
The incident comes amid a surge in unruly airline passengers this year, many involving violent attacks on flight crew members. Airlines reported about 3,000 cases of disruptive passengers between Jan. 1 and mid-June, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which began tracking it this year. About 2,300 of those incidents involved passengers who refused to obey the federal requirement to wear a face mask.MORE NEWS: Steph Curry Closes In On 3-Pointers Record As Warriors Top Blazers