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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Kentucky

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, September 25, 2020

Feds Charge Man For Placing Louisville Police Helicopter At Risk

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A man who pointed a laser pointer at a Louisville Metro Police Department helicopter blinding the pilots has been charged by federal criminal complaint, announced United States Attorney Russell Coleman. Following the temporary blindness from the beam of the laser pointer, the two officers immediately encountered headaches that impaired their ability to safely pilot the helicopter.

“Risk the safety of police or the public in violation of federal law in Louisville and expect swift and certain federal prosecution,” said U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman.

“Aiming a laser at aircraft is an incredibly dangerous act,” said FBI SAC Robert Brown. “Last night’s incidents threatened the safety of law enforcement who were dutifully protecting lawful protestors. The FBI will continue working with our partners to identify and investigate individuals who threaten the safety of our community.”

“Aiming a laser at our helicopter is not only illegal but it puts the lives of our officers in great danger,” said LMPD Chief Robert Schroeder. “We appreciate the support of our federal partners at the FBI and the US Attorney Russell Coleman.”

Manuel Martin Salazarleija Jr., 25, of Louisville, Kentucky, has been charged with aiming a laser at an Aircraft in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 39A.

According to the criminal complaint, on September 25, 2020, a Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) helicopter was performing surveillance of a vehicle fleeing the scene of a Walgreens burglary in Louisville, Kentucky. While conducting surveillance, at approximately 12:15 am, the two officers piloting the helicopter were temporarily blinded by a laser being pointed directly at the helicopter. Following the temporary blindness from the beam of the laser pointer, the two officers immediately encountered headaches that impaired their ability to safely pilot the helicopter.

Special Agents with the FBI were able to determine the exact location of the occurrence while on the ground. Salazarleija was located within a residence on East Kentucky Street, Louisville, Kentucky.  The FBI agents interviewed Salazarleija regarding the incident. Salazarleija admitted to intentionally aiming the beam of the laser pointer at the LMPD helicopter while the aircraft was in flight. He said he was trying to disrupt the helicopter that he assumed was surveilling the protests in Louisville. 

Salazarleija further admitted to dismantling the laser pointer and hiding it in a crawl space within his bedroom. Salazarleija shined the laser from his bedroom window located on the third floor of the residence on East Kentucky Street.

Helicopters operated by other law enforcement agencies and news station WLKY also reported being targeted by laser pointer beams while in flight over this area.

The charge carries a fine or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both.

The case is being investigated by the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A federal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offense charged and must be made under oath before a United States Magistrate Judge.  The charge set forth in a complaint is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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Updated September 25, 2020