Grand jury to get case of Fairfax man accused of aiming laser at police copter

By Mary Pat Flaherty
Monday, July 5, 2010

Up in the air!

It's a helicopter!

It's a laser!

It's a . . . felony?

It is when you point a laser at a helicopter in flight, contend Fairfax County police and the commonwealth's attorney's office, who say that Raymond Jeffrey Poli and his green laser light jeopardized a police crew's safety one dark and foggy Saturday morning.

A grand jury is expected to decide whether Poli should stand trial. The case is unusual -- but not the rarity it initially may seem.

Poli's attorney says his client was just a guy who wondered why a helicopter kept passing over his house on Blue Jasmine Court in Springfield at 5:15 a.m. on Feb. 27. When Poli's conventional flashlight couldn't pierce the fog to make out the helicopter's markings, Poli grabbed his son's laser pointer to take a look, Rodney Leffler said.

Fairfax police spokesmen said they could not discuss the case, and a prosecutor in the case did not return phone messages. But in an interview, Leffler said his client "had no idea why the aircraft was up there at that hour and brought out the light trying to see who it belonged to."

The Fairfax officers in the helicopter had been searching for a suspect.

As laid out in a preliminary hearing June 23, police video and audio equipment captured a burst of white light and then the laser beam that cut across their vision as they scoured the ground. To enhance their sight in darkness, members of the police crew wore night-vision goggles (think the goggles that create those shadowy, green video images in war footage).

Other pilots, including military and medevac teams, as well an FAA study have found that bright external lights can cause a flare in the goggles, temporarily impairing sight.

By shining a laser on the helicopter, Fairfax police argue, Poli interfered with the operation of an aircraft and endangered lives, which is punishable as a felony under a section of Virginia state law that carries a potential prison sentence and fine. He also was charged with obstruction of justice. The flight team worked with patrol officers on the ground to track the source of the laser and arrested Poli, 47, at his home.

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