We touched upon this issue in Morning Docket, both today and yesterday: Is Steven Slater — the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly unleashed a profanity-laced tirade over the airplane’s public-address system, before fleeing the plane via the emergency-evacuation chute, beer in hand — a criminal?
Slater was hit with felony charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, on the reasoning that the deployed evacuation chute could have hit someone below. But his lawyer argues that there was no endangerment, since Slater — a flight attendant with about 20 years of experience, since he entered the business at age 19 — checked to make sure nobody was below before deploying the slide.
Let’s explore the legal issues a bit more — with the help of one of our favorite commentators, memoirist turned litigatrix Elizabeth Wurtzel….
Here’s a concise yet detailed description of the incident, from Metro Weekly:
‘”To the fucking asshole who told me to fuck off, it’s been a good  years. I’ve had it. That’s it!'”
Quote attributed to Steven Slater, a 38-year-old jetBlue flight attendant, who apparently got in an argument with a passenger after she would not stop retrieving her overhead luggage while the plane was moving down the runway. Allegedly he released his anger on the PA system after a piece of luggage hit him in the head. It’s reported that he then grabbed a beer off of the beverage cart, activated an emergency exit and took off down the chute. He then drove to his beach home in Rockaway, NY. A heavy police force descended on the home and Slater was arrested, supposedly, as he lay in bed with his boyfriend.
Slater was taken to jail, but he was released last night on $2,500 bail. Where did the money come from — the Steven Slater Legal Defense Fund?
Now that we have the facts (or at least some of the facts) about the alleged offense, let’s brainstorm about some possible theories of criminal liability, as well as defenses. Feel free to get the party started, in the comments.
In addition to criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, the charges that Slater is facing, here are a few other random possibilities (which we’re just tossing out for discussion; we don’t necessarily endorse them, and we haven’t done any research):
- Theft (of the beer from the airline).
- Disturbing the peace (because of the argument with the passenger).
- Violation of the open-container law.
- Public intoxication and/or DUI (if he got drunk from the beer).
Since he was caught in bed with his boyfriend, how about sodomy? Well, thanks to Lawrence v. Texas, we don’t need to worry about that.
And what about defenses? His lawyer’s response to the reckless endangerment charge — that there was no reckless endangerment because, well, nobody was endangered — is too straightforward and boring.
How about… temporary insanity? Or maybe… the Fourteenth Amendment? Earlier today, we noticed this tweet from Elizabeth Wurtzel:
To be sure, the gay community is really hot for the Fourteenth Amendment right now. But this tweet was puzzling. The Fourteenth Amendment?
We reached out to Wurtzel by email and asked for clarification. She responded:
You do know that Yale Law School is nothing more than a cult of the Fourteenth Amendment in the middle of Connecticut that happens to have a registrar’s office? If I can’t claim substantive/procedural due process problems or lack of equal protection, I’m lost.
So maybe he’s entitled to equal protection as a recovering alcoholic? Is that a suspect class?
I’m also thinking that the Third Amendment has been really neglected for, well, about two hundred years. We have got to start claiming that there is a contemporary analog for quartering soldiers! It’s such a sad, lonely, lost clause. Maybe there’s a place for it in JetBlue jurisprudence.
This is just the first step in Wurtzel’s campaign to revive the Third Amendment — see this tweet.
So, back to Steve Slater. Is he a hero, or a criminal, or both? Argue it out in the comments, and vote in our poll:
Gay jetBlue fight attendant blows his top; unfunny details revealed [Metro Weekly]
JetBlue Memo — Steven Slater Was Reckless [TMZ]
How Steve Slater Is Stifling JetBlue’s Social-Media Strategy [Advertising Age]
Flight Attendant Slides to Notoriety on Exit Chute After Passenger Dispute [ABA Journal]
Should Steven Slater Be Deemed a Criminal? [WSJ Law Blog]
Lawyer: JetBlue flight attendant made grand exit after passenger cursed at him [Boston Herald]
Cartoon credit: Aurich Lawson.