Federal prosecutors allege that the hand belonged to 49-year-old Bruce Michael Alexander from Tampa, another passenger on the Southwest Airlines flight, who reportedly told authorities after being arrested Sunday that “the President of the United States says it’s ok to grab women by their private parts,” according to a criminal complaint.
Alexander was charged Monday with abusive sexual contact, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico. The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Monnica Barreras, Alexander’s lawyer, told The Washington Post in an email Tuesday afternoon that he pleaded not guilty. In his post-arrest interview, Alexander “denied the allegations that he knowingly touched the woman in a sexual manner,” Barreras said.
It all began about 15 to 20 minutes after Southwest Airlines Flight 5421 left Houston on Sunday. The woman, identified in the complaint only as C.W., said she was asleep in her window seat when “she felt her clothes move” and fingers start touching her from behind “on her right side at and around her ‘bra line.’ ”
Though she initially assumed “the touching was an accident,” it happened again about 30 minutes later.
The hand, described by the woman as having hairy “thick fingers” and “dirty finger nails,” was more persistent this time, according to the complaint.
“C.W. felt fingers slowly grab the back of her arm, squeezing above the elbow,” the complaint said. Then, “slowly and ‘attentively,’ ” the hand groped her right side “at and around her ribs and ‘bra line.’ ”
The second incident prompted the woman to confront the passenger seated in the window seat directly behind her, whom authorities identified as Alexander. According to the complaint, she told him that “she didn’t know why he thought it was ok [to touch her] and he needed to stop.”
The woman, who asked to be moved to another seat and was relocated to the back of the plane for the rest of the flight, told investigators that Alexander was a “total stranger.”
A Southwest spokesman told The Washington Post in an emailed statement that customer service supervisors and local law enforcement were “requested” to meet the flight “upon arrival . . . due to reports of a Customer’s alleged inappropriate behavior onboard.”
Alexander was arrested by the FBI at Albuquerque International Sunport and was being transported by authorities when he invoked Trump’s words, likely referencing the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that captured the president speaking lewdly about women and bragging that when you’re famous “you can do anything,” including grabbing women by their genitals.
Barreras said the FBI agent who overheard Alexander allegedly make the comment about Trump testified Tuesday that “he ‘didn’t catch the entirety of the statement’ he claims he heard.”
Trump’s words have been parroted by other people accused of unsavory acts in recent months. In June, a white woman who accosted a Hispanic man and his mother while they were doing yard work was caught in a now-viral video calling the pair “animals” and “rapists.” The president has referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals,” and in at least two separate instances, has claimed Mexico sends “rapists” to the United States.
More recently, Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, a Philadelphia mob boss, reiterated Trump’s opinion that the use of “flippers” — people who help prosecutors by turning on others for less jail time — “almost ought to be illegal.” Merlino was sentenced to two years in federal prison for illegal betting Wednesday, and prosecutors, as with many organized crime trials, relied on informants to make their case, the Guardian reported. As he was leaving the courthouse, Merlino said that Trump “was right” and that flippers need to be outlawed, according to the Guardian.
In a written statement to federal agents, Alexander said he was asleep for most of the flight and had not been drinking alcohol or taking any sleep aids. He “could not specifically recall getting into his backpack,” which was stowed under the seat in front of him, according to the complaint. Alexander told agents he did remember a woman he was seated behind speaking to him during the flight and then moving seats but could not describe her.
Alexander’s hands, however, matched the description given by the woman, authorities said.
This is not the only recent instance of unwanted contact between passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight.
Just last week, a Texas man flying from Los Angeles to Dallas allegedly did not stop touching the woman seated next to him and attempted to engage her in an unwanted game of “footsies,” according to a criminal complaint. After the woman moved seats, the man went “from zero to sixty in nano-seconds” and started yelling at flight attendants, forcing the plane to be diverted to Albuquerque, where he was arrested.
The Southwest spokesman told The Post that the airline is “continuously reviewing and updating our training as necessary,” but declined to share any specifics.
Alexander made his initial court appearance Monday and will remain in federal custody pending a preliminary hearing and detention hearing, both of which are scheduled for Tuesday, according to the news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.