An American University student appeared in court Monday on a federal felony charge of aiming a laser pointer at a U.S. Park Police helicopter on Inauguration Day on Friday.
The student, George Herdeg, 21, from San Antonio, is an international-studies major in his senior year, the university confirmed.
Prosecutors disclosed Herdeg’s arrest Saturday at the same time they announced charging 230 demonstrators with felony rioting after damage was done to storefronts and a limousine was set on fire in a four-block area near 13th and K streets NW.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ordered that Herdeg not possess a laser pointer and released him on his own recognizance pending his next court appearance, set for Feb. 8. The federal charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
According to charging documents, personnel aboard Eagle 3, a U.S. Park Police helicopter that was circling demonstrations near Franklin Square at about 3:41 p.m. Friday, saw a series of “transient green flash[es],” which they “understood as a laser pointer being pointed at the aircraft.”
Law enforcement officers canvassing on the ground a short time later saw a beam coming from a group of six men, including Herdeg, who was carrying the device, according to court filings. Herdeg was arrested and later admitted using the laser, although he denied intentionally pointing it at a helicopter, Park Police detective Andrew Watson said in an affidavit to the court.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Tony W. Miles declined to comment after Herdeg’s court appearance Monday. Family members at court said Herdeg was not a protester.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said that from 2013 to 2015, prosecutors filed 18 to 20 cases a year involving laser pointer incidents with aircraft, although the number fell to 11 last year and one so far in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.