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US: Probation and fine for "bored" man who aimed laser pointer at helicopter during Milwaukee protests
The laser strikes occurred seven times between May 31 and June 7 2021 in the summer of 2020 during protests in Milwaukee. An FBI surveillance airplane and a Wisconsin National Guard helicopter were targeted. The FBI crew began wearing anti-laser goggles to protect against bright laser light. A camera on board their aircraft was used to determine the laser's location. Ground officers then went in and arrested 39-year-old Jeremiah Belen, a resident of Milwaukee.
Belen apologized to the judge during his sentencing. He said he had the laser for astronomy pointing with his two children. He aimed at the aircraft because he was bored after being laid off during the COVID pandemic.
Prosecutors said they wanted the felony conviction to "send a message" that aiming at aircraft, especially during civil unrest, is dangerous.
Belen could have received up to five years in prison for his action, but was given probation due to no previous criminal history and having found a job since his arrest.
From 715 Newsroom, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via MSN
U.S. officials said the low-level, harassing beams came from fishing vessels and from shore.
U.S. and Chinese military interests have had disputes in the East China Sea in recent years. However, there was no specific indication of whether there was malicious intent, or any organized effort behind the laser incidents. The officials speculated that the lasers could be directed by the Chinese government, or could be “disgruntled Chinese fishermen… who simply want to harass American pilots.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that flying procedures have not changed due to the laser incidents. She did say pilots are “employing” required laser eye protection.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called claims that China was responsible for the East China Sea lasers “groundless and sheer fabrications.”
According to news.com.au, “All aspects of the Chinese economy are state-controlled. And its fishing fleets are operated as a militia, working in close concert with Beijing’s navy as it seeks to assert its arbitrary claim to total control of the South and East China Seas…. The waterway is, however, part of a busy sea lane carrying enormous quantities of international trade.”
Disclosure of the East China Sea incidents came about seven weeks after the United States publicly accused China of deliberately aiming lasers between two and ten times at military aircraft in Djibouti, in East Africa. In those incidents, the Pentagon said “military-grade” lasers were used. Two U.S. Air Force pilots received minor, unspecified injuries with no long-term effects.
From the Wall Street Journal, news.com.au and Stars and Stripes
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: About 24 laser/aircraft incidents over nine months from boats or the shore of the East China Sea seems like a plausible number for random, unconnected civilian misuse of commonly available laser pointers.
Consider that the East China Sea has an area of about 500,000,000 square miles. This is roughly equivalent to the combined area of Texas, California and Florida. (Of course the Sea is far less populated even considering seacoast populations.)
In the U.S. in 2017, there were roughly 5,600 reported incidents over nine months, so 24 incidents in the same period is a reasonable number for a less-populated area. Another indication that these may be from civilian misuse is that U.S. officials indicated the East China Sea incidents occurred from “smaller, commercial-grade” lasers which includes readily available low-powered consumer laser pointers.
However, if Chinese fishing fleets are a “militia” as claimed by one news source, then there may be some coordination or central control for the laser attacks.
For a contrary view, see the June 25 2018 column “China is Trying to Bring Down American Planes With Lasers. Time to Get Tough” in the Daily Beast. Author Gordon Chang considers but rejects the unorganized attack hypothesis. He says “it is difficult to believe that Chinese fishermen can pick out American military aircraft from civilian ones without radar or other help. Moreover, state support is the best explanation for the increasing sophistication of the laserings.”
Chang argues that “Washington should consider the attacks, almost certainly directed by Beijing, as attempts to injure pilots and their crews. The American response, therefore, should be immediate in timing and devastating in effect….”
This was the ninth laser incident reported by the Pasadena police in 2012. A police statement indicated that the helicopter crew had protective eyewear, but was not wearing them when the laser illuminated the aircraft.
After the helicopter landed at the Pasadena Heliport, the officer was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital for evaluation. Police said the officer was “not seriously injured” and that there was no permanent damage.
From KABC, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Pasadena Sun
The Calgary Police Service’s Helicopter Air Watch for Community Safety (HAWC), was on patrol when hit by a green beam at 10:45 pm. The crew then put on protective glasses and began a 30-minute search during which they were hit two more times. During the incident, one runway was closed by the Calgary Airport Authority, as a safety precaution.
Police tracked the beam to McConnell’s home about 10 km (6 mi) away, arrested him and seized what they describe as a “high-powered laser”. McConnell claimed it was an accident: “I was playing with it inside the house and it hit a mirror. It’s not like I was inside pointing it at them. It’s pure coincidence.”
After the incident, the helicopter crew was grounded pending the results of eye tests to determine whether their vision was damaged.
From CBC News, the Vancouver Sun and the Calgary Herald
UPDATE May 31 2011: The Calgary Sun has a short article about initial judicial proceedings against McConnell. The trial phase should begin shortly. From the Calgary Sun.
UPDATE 2 June 19 2012: On June 18 2012, McConnell pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of mischief causing damage to property, and to projecting a bright light at an aircraft to cause a hazard under the Aeronautics Act.
He received a six month conditional sentence followed by six months of probation. The first two months of the conditional term will be under house arrest; the remaining four months he will have a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. He also must complete 25 hours of community service and undergo counseling. Finally, he will not be allowed to possess laser pointers. Both McConnell’s lawyer and the crown prosecutor agreed that the sentencing conditions were an adequate punishment.
According to his lawyer, McConnell did not realize the seriousness of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He said the incident was due to “basically stupid curiosity.” From the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald.