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Feds: Man faces assault charge after flight diversion to ABQ

The FBI says an airline passenger who wouldn’t keep his hands off a woman during a flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, then got into a confrontation with the flight crew, forced the plane to be redirected to Albuquerque on Tuesday.

Justin Riley Brafford, 29, of Denton, Texas, was charged with interference with a flight crew and simple assault in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque. He made his initial court appearance Wednesday.

According to the complaint, a woman identified as M.W., who was sitting in an aisle seat on the Southwest Airlines flight, said Brafford took the middle seat between her and another female passenger and, before takeoff, he started leaning closer to her and put his arm over her armrest and onto her leg. She told authorities he kept getting closer to her and began “playing footsies.”

An FBI agent wrote in the charging document that the female passenger told Brafford he was bothering her and to stop kicking her, but that he kept pulling on her sweater, asking her to go out after the flight and if she was staying alone in her hotel room.

The woman signaled for a flight attendant and asked to be moved to a different seat because Brafford was making her feel uncomfortable. After she was moved, Brafford allegedly approached her again, according to the complaint.

A flight attendant told Brafford to “leave it alone,” and, according to the attendant, Brafford went from “zero to sixty in nanoseconds” and began standing and yelling at the attendant. When another attendant called the cockpit, the pilot heard yelling and, after consulting with the attendant, diverted the plane to Albuquerque, according to the complaint.

The unscheduled stop caused several passengers to miss their connecting flights.

Brafford told authorities after the plane landed that M.W. came on to him and started flirting with him. He said he felt like they were connecting and put his hand on her leg, but may have gone too far, according to the complaint.

Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen ruled during Brafford’s court appearance on Thursday that he be detained. The judge said that he had a prior criminal history, a history of violence or use of weapons, lack of community ties and a lack of a stable residence, according to court documents.

John Van Butcher, Brafford’s attorney, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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