Westchester Man Charged With Aiming High-Powered Laser Pointer At Police Helicopter; Deferred Prosecution Agreement Reached
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), George Longworth, the Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety (“WCDPS”), and William J. Bratton, the Commissioner of the New York Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today the filing of a criminal Complaint against PHILIP AVERY PUTTER for aiming a high-powered laser pointer at a WCDPS helicopter that was conducting aerial surveillance at the July 2013 Kensico Dam Fireworks Independence Day celebration. The Government and the defendant have entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, which was today approved in White Plains federal court by United States Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Aiming a high-powered laser pointer at an aircraft is serious business; it can cause a deadly crash. The public should know that those who engage in such conduct are committing a federal crime.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos stated: “This is no laughing matter. Plain and simple: lasers pointed at pilots can down an aircraft. The FBI is committed to investigating these incidents that continue to occur with alarming frequency.”
Westchester County Department of Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth stated: “This incident not only caused a danger to the pilots and crew of our Aviation Unit helicopters, but it also jeopardized the safety of thousands of people who were enjoying the festivities that evening at Kensico Dam Park. Blinding the pilot of any aircraft is not a silly prank. It is a crime that has the potential to cause devastating consequences.”
New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said, “This prank underscores the type of reckless conduct that can potentially endanger law enforcement and the communities they serve. I want to thank the investigators for their swift action that led to the apprehension of this individual.”
According to allegations contained in the Complaint filed today in White Plains federal court:
On the evening of July 3, 2013, two WCDPS helicopter pilots were assigned to conduct aerial observation of the Fireworks Celebration at the Kensico Dam in Valhalla, New York. There were approximately 10,000 to 15,000 people on the ground below enjoying the festivities.
The helicopter pilots explained that very shortly after they arrived near the Kensico Dam just after 9 p.m., the helicopter was hit by a green laser beam. The laser contact lasted approximately 4-5 seconds. One pilot said that the laser hit prevented him from being able to see objects outside the aircraft, and that after the beam struck the helicopter, his night vision was severely impaired. The other pilot said that the laser beam impaired his ability to read the flight instruments for a period of time.
WCDPS officers on the ground looked up into the sky and saw a green laser beam pointing toward the WCPD helicopter. A police officer followed the steady beam down to the ground and saw a man holding a laser pointer. That man was subsequently identified as PUTTER.
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PUTTER, 40, who lives in Hawthorne, New York, has been charged with one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, which is a relatively new criminal statute enacted by Congress in February 2012 in order to address the increasing nationwide problem of laser pointers targeting aircraft.
PUTTER faces a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment. Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, however, if PUTTER abides by the conditions of the agreement for six months, the Government will agree to dismiss the Complaint.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the law enforcement partners involved in the investigation, including the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Westchester County Department of Public Safety..
The case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason P.W. Halperin is in charge of the prosecution.
The charge contained in the Complaint is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
There are a number of incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft in the metropolitan New York area that the FBI is now actively investigating. Anyone with information about such incidents is asked to call the FBI at 212-384-1000.