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Press Release

Jefferson County Man Sentenced to 8 Months in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama
For Shining a Laser Pointer at a Helicopter

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A Jefferson County man was sentenced today for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr.

United States District Judge Anna M. Manasco sentenced Gabriel Lopez Mathews, 27, to 8 months in prison for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.  Mathews pleaded guilty to the charge in April.

On April 11, 2020, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Star One helicopter was assisting the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in a nighttime operation to recover stolen firearms.  While flying below an approach path for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, the helicopter received numerous laser strikes from a residence below.  The helicopter’s tactical officer was able to determine the street location of the source of the laser strikes, which was relayed to the Birmingham Police Department.  Birmingham officers responded to the scene but could not locate a suspect.  However, they gathered information that later assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation in tracking down Mathews and obtaining a confession.

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can disorient the pilot and cause the aircraft to crash,” said U.S. Attorney Escalona.  “Laser strikes can be deadly, and individuals who put pilots and residents in the path of the aircraft in danger will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law.  It is important that people understand that this is a criminal act with potentially deadly repercussions,” SAC Sharp said.  “We also want to encourage people to come forward when they see someone committing this felony—one that could have terrible consequences for pilots and their passengers.”

The FBI investigated the case, along with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Birmingham Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Baty prosecuted the case.

Updated September 16, 2021

Violent Crime