Public Safety

Judge rules Brazilian man charged with intimidating flight crew, diverting flight to Cedar Rapids, is competent to stand trial

Evaluation: Possible psychotic episode during June flight

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Brazilian tattoo artist, charged with intimidating flight crew on a Canadian flight to Chicago and causing the plane to be diverted to Cedar Rapids in June, on Wednesday was found competent to stand trial.

Guilherme Alves De Melo, 33, is charged with one count of intimidating a flight crew member or attendant and lessening or interfering with their ability to perform their duties.

U.S. District Chief Magistrate C.J. Williams, after hearing a psychologist’s evaluation — which he noted was limited and ignored competency testing — said he had no reasonable cause to decide Alves is incompetent at this time.

Williams said it has been over a month since Alves had what appeared to be a psychotic episode, according to the evaluation by Paul Eggerman, a Cedar Rapids psychologist.

Alves hasn’t displayed any strange or disruptive behavior in jail — such as writing on his face, being loud and agitated, or making motions to slit his wrists, which he is accused of doing on the June 23 flight.

He also has remained calm and quiet in court during three hearing, Williams noted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy asked for the hearing to determine Alves’ competence. He argued the court should order further testing because Eggerman didn’t conduct specific testing to determine competency for trial.

Evaluation

Eggerman, the psychologist, said he used a widely accepted psychology test in evaluating Alves, which was consistent with medical and mental reports from Mercy Medical Center, where Alves was taken for 72 hours of observance.

Alves was given medicine for psychosis at the hospital.

On July 13, another psychologist said Alves was verbal and alert and denied having hallucinations or hearing voices. He didn’t want to take the psychosis medicine, which is consistent with his behavior the next day when evaluated by Eggerman.

Eggerman said Alves had “limited, spotty” memory of what happened on the plane and said the incident was scary to him. He was having paranoid delusions that day when others on the plane were looking at him because of his odd behavior.

When an individual is just starting to have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, his or her behavior can be frightening to the individual, Eggerman said. He ruled out drugs or alcohol as a factor in Alves’ behavior, based on toxicology reports.

Eggerman also talked with or corresponded with Alves’ former girlfriend, his mother and a friend who said they’d not seen any psychotic behavior from him.

The girlfriend did say Alves had become more anxious and nervous, almost “panicky,” over their living arrangements in Canada because another man lived with them and may have become interested in the woman.

Passengers

Special Agent Christopher Cantrell with Homeland Security testified about what passengers and crew members said happened on the flight.

A passenger said Alves had a “temper tantrum” and then punched himself in the face but told the flight attendant, “Why are you hitting me?” Cantrell said.

Alves also said he was bleeding when he wasn’t.

Another passenger said Alves started talking in different languages, like he was on the phone, but wasn’t. At some point, Alves made motions like he was slitting his wrists.  

In general, people on the plane were “frightened and children was crying,” he said.

Passengers restrained Alves with zip ties provided by the flight crew, according to the criminal complaint, and the flight was diverted to The Eastern Iowa Airport.

Cantrell testified at a previous hearing that Alves, after his arrest, told investigators he had eaten part of his boarding pass to prove he was part of a movie being filmed on the flight. Alves also had ripped up his personal identification, expired visa, a temporary visa and boarding pass during the flight.

Alves has pleaded guilty to a Linn County charge of disorderly conduct and was fined $100. If convicted on the federal charge, Alves faces up to 20 years in prison. A trial hasn’t been set at this time.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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