A man has been sentenced to jail for 21 months for repeatedly pointing two different lasers at law enforcement helicopters.
Brett Lee Scott, 26, of Buttonwillow, California was sentenced Monday after entering a guilty plea in federal court in Fresno in May, according to California’s Imperial Valley News. He said he had fired the laser pointers at a Kern Country Sheriff’s Office helicopter over a six-month period in 2013 because he was “bored.”
The lasers he used emitted powerful purple or green beams, and temporarily blinded the helicopters’ pilots for several minutes.
“This is a truly senseless crime, and a very serious one,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “Defendants like Mr. Scott, who thoughtlessly point lasers at an aircraft for their short-sighted amusement, put lives at risk and create the very real possibility that a needless tragedy will occur. My office will continue to prosecute these cases vigorously and will work with the FBI and our local law enforcement partners to send the message that this behaviour will not be tolerated.”
The pilots were able to identify where the lasers originated, and, with the help of local law enforcement, were able to name Scott as a suspect. The laser pointers Scott used exceeded the legal limit; one was 17 times more powerful than the legal power emission limit.
“Boredom is no excuse for pointing a laser at an aircraft. Scott’s sentence reinforces our message to the public: This activity is a violation of federal law and is a serious risk to public safety,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the Sacramento FBI. “Scott may have been located and arrested, but stopping such reckless activity is the only way to ensure public safety. Everyone is encouraged to discuss the risks of this activity with their families. Please report anyone shining a laser at an aircraft to 911 immediately.”
The case is the ninth laser strike-related sentence from the Eastern District of California since 2007, Ars Technica reports. “Combined with an additional 20 state convictions from this region, this federal district alone constitutes approximately 35 per cent of the only 80 total laser strike convictions nationwide — state and federal — since the FBI began keeping track a decade ago,” reported Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar.
It’s long been a federal crime to interfere with the operation of an aircraft, but pointing laser beams at the airborne vehicles became a federal felony in 2012 with the FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act. “The new law lowered the threshold for prosecution,” said George Johnson, a federal air marshal who serves as a liaison officer with the FBI on laser issues, “and the trend is on the rise for jail time in these cases.”
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