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AG Merrick Garland directs prosecutors to prioritize air travel assault cases

AG Merrick Garland directs prosecutors to prioritize air travel assault cases
The Federal Aviation Administration said it has initiated more than 1,000 investigations of unruly passengers, up from 183 in 2020. File Photo by Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE

Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday directed U.S. attorneys to prioritize prosecuting federal crimes involving violence and outbursts on commercial flights.

His directive comes amid an increase in reports of unruly air passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel," Garland said. "Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard."

A memorandum from Garland said an information-sharing protocol announced earlier this month between the Justice Department and Federal Aviation Administration will help ensure his department will be notified of criminal conduct aboard commercial aircraft. He said the FAA has used the protocol to notify the FBU of dozens of incidents for investigation.

"The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants on commercial aircraft," Garland said.

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The FAA said it's recorded more than 5,300 reports of unruly passengers and 3,800 mask-related incidents this year as of Tuesday. The agency has initiated more than 1,000 investigations, up 183 in 2020 and a previous high of 310 in 2004.

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