United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
LYNDEN MAN SENTENCED FOR INTERFERING WITH PILOT OF CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION HELICOPTER
Defendant Intentionally Shined High Powered Spotlight, Temporarily Blinding Pilot
WAYNE P. GROEN, 42, of Lynden, Washington, was sentenced today to 60 days in prison, 90 days of home detention, 120 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine and three years of supervised release for incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft. GROEN was convicted April 28, 2011, following a two day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle. GROEN was indicted in January 2011, for the events of September 22, 2010, when GROEN shined a high powered spotlight on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter that was being flown by a pilot wearing night vision goggles. The spotlight blinded the pilot making it impossible for him to see the airspace around him, and the dials necessary for flying the aircraft. The co-pilot had to direct the pilot to fly out of the area. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly noted that CBP and Border Patrol personnel put their lives at risk every time they report for duty. The judge told GROEN, “What you did was stupid. We’re all lucky that you are standing here convicted of a charge, and that the helicopter did not crash.”
“There is no question that federal law enforcement needs to keep working to address community concerns at the border. But endangering lives, as Mr. Groen did, is not the answer and cannot be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “These pilots not only keep our borders secure, they serve the community in many ways. Less than 24 hours before this incident, this Customs and Border Protection helicopter was assisting at the scene of a fatal car crash, and helping search for a missing 62-year-old woman. Wayne Groen had no idea what work he was disrupting, and he had no right to interfere with CBP’s important public service mission.”
According to records filed in the case and testimony at trial, at about 9:35 in the evening on September 22, 2010, the helicopter was supporting law enforcement on the ground working to intercept those illegally crossing into the U.S. from Canada. The helicopter was about 600 feet off the ground, near the Abbotsford B.C. airport, when the defendant targeted a high powered spotlight directly into the cockpit of the aircraft, endangering the aircraft, pilots and people on the ground. The beam was trained on the helicopter for three to five minutes. The helicopter returned shortly thereafter to assist in discovering the source of the spotlight. The pilots and investigators on the ground observed that the spotlight was coming from the vicinity of GROEN’s home. When an agent on the ground drove up GROEN’s street, GROEN shined a high powered spotlight at him. GROEN got out of the car with the high powered spotlight in his hand. GROEN was arrested December 17, 2010, on a criminal complaint.
In requesting a ten month prison sentence, prosecutors noted that GROEN’s actions endangered the pilots and people on the ground. The conduct is also part of a pattern of harassment of law enforcement. “First, the defendant’s own history with law enforcement shows that he is hostile, belligerent, and reckless with any law enforcement, not simply CBP. He is not picky when he is looking to harass someone. Indeed, the most dangerous incident before the instant conduct was when he repeatedly yelled at, taunted, tailed, highbeamed, swore at, and ultimately threatened a sheriff deputy by yelling, “I have a shotgun!,” when the sheriff had the nerve to ticket his son for running a stop sign at 80 miles per hour,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
Judge Zilly noted that it was troubling to him that “we have a person who has demonstrated on several occasions disrespect for law enforcement…. Living near the border provides challenges for those who live near the border and those who are employed as law enforcement…. They do difficult work for all of us.”
The case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. The case was being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jerrod Patterson and Jill Otake.