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Press Release

Laguna Niguel Man Arrested for Allegedly Trying to Shoot Down Orange County Sheriff’s Department Helicopter After Birthday Party

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

SANTA ANA, California – An Orange County man was arrested today on a federal grand jury indictment alleging he repeatedly fired a rifle at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter after his birthday party acrimoniously ended earlier this year.

Justin Derek Jennings, 39, of Laguna Niguel, is charged with one count of attempting to damage, destroy, or disable an aircraft.

Jennings was arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana and pleaded not guilty to the charge against him. A federal magistrate judge ordered him jailed without bond and scheduled an August 5 trial date in this matter.

According to court documents and the indictment that a grand jury returned on June 5, Jennings and his family were celebrating his birthday party on March 9. Jennings allegedly had been drinking and became enraged. As his outburst escalated, family members in attendance left the home. After most of his family left, Jennings allegedly removed a rifle from his gun safe and fired an entire magazine worth of ammunition inside the home. The rest of Jennings’ family fled and reported the incident to law enforcement.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department responded with several deputies and a police helicopter that flew in circles around the area. Jennings allegedly then went to the home’s second story and began shooting a rifle upwards in the sky, firing only when the helicopter was visible to him. The shooting continued intermittently for at least 20 minutes, court documents state. After speaking with an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, Jennings exited the residence and surrendered.

During a search of Jennings’ residence, law enforcement seized two revolvers, two handguns, and two rifles along with multiple rounds of ammunition. Bullet casings were scattered throughout the floor and law enforcement also seized two magazines and a box of ammunition that was on a couch beneath the window from where Jennings allegedly fired.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

If convicted, Jennings would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office charged Jennings in connection with this incident, but dismissed the case so the federal case against him could proceed.

The FBI and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigated this matter.

Assistant United States Attorney Caitlin J. Campbell of the Santa Ana Branch Office is prosecuting this case.


Ciaran McEvoy
Public Information Officer
(213) 894-4465

Updated June 10, 2024

Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 24-140