Public Safety

Testimony: Passengers helped restrain Brazilian man whose erratic behavior diverted flight to Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Brazilian tattoo artist pleaded guilty Thursday to intimidating a flight crew on a Canadian flight bound for Chicago, which was diverted to Cedar Rapids because of the man’s erratic and disturbing behavior.

Guilherme Alves De Melo, 33, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of intimidating a flight crew member or attendant and lessening or interfering with the crew’s ability to perform duties.

During the hearing, Alves admitted his behavior was intimidating and that he interfered with the crew members’ ability to do their jobs during the June 23 flight.

Christopher Nathan, Alves’ lawyer, said his client took no position on whether the facts in the case, which were included in the plea agreement, were accurate. Nathan said they wanted to wait to see what was in the presentencing report to make their arguments at sentencing.

Nathan informed the judge that Alves, who was found competent but was diagnosed as having a psychotic episode during the flight, according a psychological evaluation, returned to Mercy Hospital for a few days after the previous hearing and was given two injections of long-term release drugs for his mental issues.

U.S. District Chief Magistrate C.J. Williams questioned Alves about this ability to understand the proceedings, and he confirmed the medication didn’t impair his ability to understand.

Williams told Alves he faces up to 20 years in prison and five years on supervised release. He may also have to pay up to $250,000 in fines and pay restitution to anyone on the flight who files a claim of harm during the incident.

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Alves, who isn’t a United States citizen, will likely be deported back to Brazil after serving his prison time, the judge noted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy also told the court that this conviction may affect Alves’ flight travel through the U.S. and possibly Canada. The Department of Homeland Security may be able to impose restrictions, Murphy warned.

During previous hearings, Homeland Security Special Agent Christopher Cantrell testified about what passengers and crew members said happened during the flight.

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

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

Another passenger said Alves drew on his face with a pen or marker and started talking in different languages, like he was talking on a phone that wasn’t there. At some point, Alves made motions like he was slitting his wrists.

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

Passengers helped restrain 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 ripped up his personal identification, expired visa, a temporary visa and boarding pass during the flight.

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Paul Eggerman, a Cedar Rapids psychologist who evaluated Alves in July, previously testified Alves had “limited, spotty” memory of what happened on the plane and said the incident was scary to him. He ruled out drugs or alcohol as a factor in Alves’ behavior, based on toxicology reports.

Alves also was charged in state court and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was fined $100.

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

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