Flight attack questions security, mental health 2023


Francisco Torres entered a Massachusetts barbershop on a February afternoon as the music was playing and proclaimed he was half-angel, half-demon.

He wanted a dozen individuals to approach the business and shoot him with an automatic rifle hidden in the trunk of his car. Torres exited the store in his vehicle before anybody could comprehend his request. They never observed a weapon, and he never returned.

“At first I didn’t understand what he was saying, but then I understood he was discussing a pistol. Saul Perez, who was visiting friends at the shop, remarked that an employee dialed 911, herded youngsters to the back, and shut down the business. “I told him there are children in the shop, so why are you saying that?” “I was spooked.”

Torres was arrested earlier this month for hitting a flight attendant and attempted to open the plane’s emergency door on a transcontinental United aircraft from Los Angeles to Boston. The incident occurred around one week prior to Torres’ arrest.

Since the start of the epidemic, the number of confrontations on flights has increased, with some altercations being caught and constantly replayed on social media.

Torres yells death threats and predicts a slaughter before approaching the front of the plane, where he was subdued by a group of passengers.

A court has ruled that he will remain in jail for a mental health examination because he “may be suffering from a mental ailment or condition that renders him mentally incapable.”

Torres protested to the review through his federal public defender, Joshua Hanye, who did not return a phone requesting more comment on Thursday. A Torres relative refused to speak on the matter.

The flying assault was part of Torres’ decades-long history of exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. According to lawsuits he brought against two Massachusetts hospitals in 2021 and 2022, which have since been dismissed, he spent time in mental health facilities. Torres asserts that he contended in one of the cases that he was misdiagnosed with a mental disorder and that he was discriminated against for being vegan.

According to a police complaint, in December 2022, authorities encountered him at his home in Worcester County, where he was protesting climate change in his underpants. On another occasion in 2021, his mother called the police to complain that he was shouting “homicidal threats” out of a window. He informed cops he was in World War III and had a unique gear that gave him “supersonic hearing,” which he used to overhear his neighbors discussing him.

Torres’s case history illustrates the difficulties faced by airlines and federal agencies when dealing with people like him. Especially considering that, according to data cited by specialists, people with mental illness are more frequently the victims than the perpetrators of violent actions.

Despite several encounters with the police, he seldom exhibited aggressive behavior, according to the officials. He was previously accused of grasping his mother’s arm, but the accusations were dropped. While he frequently discussed firearms, he did not legally possess one. A passenger stated that there were no indications of danger when he boarded the cross-country aircraft last month, nor throughout the first five hours of flight.

Torres is a nonviolent criminal, according to Leominster Police Chief Aaron Kennedy, who has dealt with him in the past. “This man was rather subdued.”

Even if earlier occurrences triggered red flags, airline firms cannot or should not do much, according to experts. Although airlines claim they do not disclose prohibited passenger lists, there have been a few incidents where the person’s name got widely known.

Special agents and other authorized government workers may submit names for consideration on the FBI’s no-fly list for those suspected of terrorism.

According to Jeffrey Price, an aviation-security specialist from Metropolitan State University of Denver, mental illness does not restrict passengers from boarding an aircraft. He stated that federal law grants U.S. people “a public right of movement via navigable airspace.”

Last year, airlines and their labor unions submitted legislation to create a new no-fly list that would include those who have been punished or fined for interfering with aircraft workers. The legislation failed to receive hearings in either the Senate or the House, but their supporters want to reintroduce them later this month.

Some Republican senators rejected the measure on the grounds that it may be used to penalize opponents of the federal regulation mandating passengers to wear masks, or even to “equate them with terrorists.” When the federal mask rule was still in operation from January 2021 to April 2022, the great majority of rowdy passenger instances recorded by airlines concerned conflicts about masks, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Numerous liberal organizations opposed the measure on the grounds that the present no-fly list of suspected terrorists is opaque and unjust.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed many lawsuits against the government over the past decade on behalf of individuals who did not understand why they were on the list or how to get removed. The ACLU has also accused the FBI of placing some individuals on the list in order to coerce them into cooperating with counter-terrorism investigations against Muslim communities in the United States.

The captain of an airline aircraft may elect not to travel with a particular passenger, however flight attendants report that this typically occurs when a passenger looks to be intoxicated.

The government operates “trusted traveler” programs, such as TSA PreCheck, which allow fingerprinted individuals who pass a background check to go through airport security without removing their shoes, belts, coats, or computers. Individuals can be refused PreCheck if they are convicted of certain crimes, which includes those who are declared not guilty due to insanity. Nonetheless, those who are rejected PreCheck can still fly.

Putting passengers like Torres on a no-fly list or prohibiting them from boarding an aircraft poses a number of practical and constitutional concerns. Yet selecting who would be included such a list would be problematic in a country that takes pride in preserving individual rights and maintaining the confidentiality of health information by adhering to tight HIPAA regulations.

In addition, having a “mental health difficulty” is not always a predictor of erratic conduct, according to Lynn Bufka, a psychologist and the assistant head of practice change for the American Psychological Association. This is not a reliable criterion for deciding whether or not someone should board safely.

Jason Loomis, a fellow passenger, reported that before Torres grew upset and threatened others around him, he exhibited no unusual behavior while boarding and was peaceful at the start of the trip. Nevertheless, Loomis observed his outburst hours later. First, he attempted to calm Torres by speaking with him, but as Torres’ fury grew, Loomis joined other passengers in detaining him.

Yet, Loomis stated that he could not conceive of excluding Torres from the trip in the first place. Instead, he stated that it was a lesson that society must take better care of those with mental illness.

Loomis stated, “I realize there has been a lot of debate about airplane security and safety recently, but this was an extremely unusual incidence.” “It’s not as if he was screaming at the airport. He did not threaten anyone. He was doing OK until suddenly something snapped.”