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U.S. Attorney Speaks to Press About Man Who Charged Cockpit Door

Aired February 8, 2002 - 14:17   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to step away during this final question because we want to get the first words out of U.S. attorney Guy Lewis, in Miami, speaking about Pablo Moreira, who was on that plane to Argentina.

GUY LEWIS, U.S. ATTORNEY: He was back around seat 38J, toward the middle, toward the back of the plane. He began coming up in back, and of course, the crew noticed it and notified the pilot that they had some concerns about an individual and that he appeared agitated, walking back and forth, and they notified the captain.

Of course, again, as you know, the cabin door now post-September 11 is locked, is secured, and supposedly, you can't get into it. Well, when the defendant was instructed in this case to sit down, to resume his seat, and to calm down, he immediately rushed the cabin door. He began striking the cabin door with his foot, with his arm, hit it six, seven times, until finally he created an opening in the bottom of the door.

As the crew and the passengers at this point began holding him and pulling him back, he made his way into the bottom of the door, and that's when one of the second-in-command used what they have in the cockpit, which is an axe. It's a kind of a metal looking, about 1 1/2 feet, almost 2 feet long axe that's used in the cockpit. The second- in-command took the ax, struck the defendant in the head and incapacitated him.

He was then taken and restrained, put into first-class section, and, basically, tied up, sedated by a doctor who was on board. And the flight continued into Buenos Aires. At that point, again, as the complaint details, the authorities in Buenos Aires denied his entry into the country, and a court judge in Buenos Aires formally expelled him.

The defendant was flown back here to South Florida where he was facing and is facing charges now here in federal court.

Today, in court this afternoon, represented by the United States, Robin Walk and Bruce Brown from our office, who will be handling the matter, asked for detention, that the defendant should not receive a bond, that he is a danger to this community, he is a risk of flight, and so the judge has temporarily detained the defendant on that basis, pending a hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday of next week. We will be seeking detention at that time. We think the defendant is a danger to the community, he is a risk of flight, and we will be proceeding forward with the charges at that time.

Let me take a minute and say two things. One, let me commend these passengers and this flight crew. One can only imagine the state of chaos as this defendant rushes the cockpit door and begins pounding on the door. They acted and reacted in such an admirable fashion. So let me commend the crew, the passengers. We've been in touch with a number of them. And the FBI and I am so proud of the way they reacted.

Secondly, let me make it clear -- let me make it absolutely clear -- whether it is assaulting a flight officer, pushing a steward or stewardess or flight attendant, whether it's the extreme circumstances like we've seen her, it is absolutely not going to be tolerated. We are going to deal with this in the harshest, most strict fashion that we can. And so I want to make sure that the message is clear. It is not going to be tolerated in any fashion or form.

Let me take a couple of quick questions.

QUESTION: The defense attorney for Mr. Moreira this afternoon said, My client is not a terrorist. Any question in your mind that he terrorized that aircraft the other day?

LEWIS: I think the best people to ask on that would be those passengers, those passengers and those crewmen who responded so well, who saw him rushing the cabin door, not knowing the purpose, but clearly, watching him rush, hit that door six or seven -- and eventually make way in the bottom of the door. So I think you ought to ask one of the passengers how they felt, but it's clear in our mind that this was a very, very serious situation.


QUESTION: In the affidavit he is quoted as saying, "I wanted to destroy everything." What's your theory on what he meant by that?

LEWIS: I'm not going to speculate at this point, Brad, as to exactly what he meant. It's clear he made the remarks. They're contained in the affidavit. A number of people heard them. So again, that's what in our minds elevates this to such a serious and notorious set of circumstances that would warrant our quick, immediate, and decisive intervention.

QUESTION: Any clue that you have discerned or the agents as to why he might have done this? And was alcohol a factor for him?

LEWIS: I can't say right now, Mark (ph), as to his specific underlying intentions or motives. We do know that, clearly, what can you conclude as a result of someone trying to interfere with a jumbo jet in mid-flight, five hours into the flight. I mean this wasn't just to scare people.

QUESTION: I believe five of these incidents since September 11. What does that say about just what's going on in the skies?

LEWIS: Certainly, it's disturbing when we in this district have averaged about one a month of the air rage or assault-on-a-flight-crew case since September. That's why we have really stepped up our enforcement with the FBI with the local authorities. We are responding to every single one of these cases. And we are going to continue to until the message gets out that you are going to be prosecuted and you are going to jail.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) danger to the community or a flight risk?

LEWIS: Clearly, the flight risk portion is as a result of his ties to the south Florida area. He has virtually no ties to south Florida, and as a result, we think that there is little likelihood he will stay here in south Florida during the course of the proceedings unless he is locked up.

The danger aspect?: Look at the crime. It speaks for itself.

HARRIS: We're listening to U.S. attorney Guy Lewis, who has been speaking to reporters in Miami, describing exactly the kind of charges and the process that Pablo Moreira is going to be facing after he allegedly went berserk on a plane going down to Argentina and was hit in head with an ax by the pilot, who subdued him, and then he was brought back to Miami to face these charges.

Let's check with Gary Tuchman, who is also in Miami. He's been following this story for us from there -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When Pablo Moreira flew back to Miami, earlier this morning, he was wearing a striped shirt. He was wearing that same striped shirt inside the courthouse today. We weren't allowed to show video inside the courthouse.

We want to tell you what happened during this man's initial appearance hearing inside. The judge read him his rights. He asked him if he understood the rights. Mr. Moreira does speak English and Spanish. And Pablo Moreira said yes. The judge said, If you don't understand, tell me you don't understand. Then Mr. Moreira said, Can you repeat. He repeated the rights, he then set the charges that are against him, and those charges are interference with a flight crew, and Mr. Moreira then said he understood.

He also asked him his name. He said, Pablo Moreira. He asked him his age. He said 29.

According to the statement put out by the prosecutors, it says that Mr. Moreira after this all happened, after he was subdued, said, quote, "I wanted to destroy everything." One thing we assume his defense attorneys will point out -- we don't know for sure, because they didn't talk very much today -- is that this man, apparently, was drinking on the plane and drinking before the flight, and then was sedated after this incident happened.

His attorneys did come out. We should point out he has two defense attorneys. They are not court-appointed attorneys; these are two people he has hired. He has only been back in the United States for nine or ten hours since he got here this morning, and he's hired two of the finer defense attorneys here in Miami-Dade County, two former federal prosecutors who will be representing him during this case.

We can tell you he was very attentive inside the courthouse. He looked very depressed and sad. He was wearing handcuffs when he walked in. They were taken off when he spoke with the judge and put back on when he was done. But he was very attentive during this entire period.

This Tuesday, a pretrial detention hearing will be held. What basically it is is a bond hearing. His attorneys will ask to allow him to be released. You just heard the U.S. attorney saying they don't want that, because no ties to south Florida, and they think he would zip out if was allowed out of prison, so they will fight that effort this Tuesday. An arraignment will be held on February 22, and that's indictments got to be handed down. That's when Pablo Moreira will issue a plea of guilty or not guilty.

We want to tell you the defense attorneys talked for literally five minutes, and we want to give you a listen to the main point the defense attorney made.


ALLAN SULLIVAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it's important for you to know that Pablo, our client, is not a terrorist. He has no affiliation or association to any terrorist organization. The circumstances that brought him here are quite unfortunate. But again, we're going to have to be heard at a later date about those circumstances.


TUCHMAN: It was on a United Airlines flight yesterday from Miami to Buenos Aires that this incident allegedly happen, that he crashed through the cockpit door, and then the co-pilot hit on head with ax.

Believe or not, interestingly enough, it was the United Airlines flight -- they have a flight in each direction between Miami to Buenos Aires -- the United Airlines flight from Argentina back to Florida that he took to come back. He was actually on the plane in the back row with two Argentine security agents, two U.S. State Department security agents, and most of the passengers did not even know he was aboard.

Leon, back to you.

HARRIS: Thank you very much. Gary Tuchman, reporting for us from Miami. We'll get back to you later on with more developments on that story.




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