Southern California man charged in flight attendant attack during New York-to-Orange County flight

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Posted at 1:14 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 09:30:16-04

SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 20-year-old Irvine man was arrested Monday on federal charges of attacking a flight attendant during a trip from New York bound for Santa Ana that had to be diverted to Denver.

Brian Hsu was charged with interference with a flight crew and assault, according to federal prosecutors in Colorado.

During a brief court appearance in Santa Ana on Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Autumn Spaeth set Hsu's bond at $10,000. He was expected to post that and be released from custody. He is next expected in federal court in Denver on Nov. 15.

Hsu was represented by Andrea Jacobs of the Federal Public Defender's Office, but the defendant said he intended to hire a private attorney going forward.

Spaeth restricted Hsu's travel to Rhode Island for unspecified medical care, Southern California and Denver. Hsu will need permission to travel elsewhere, but Jacobs indicated that he wants to return to school in New York in the spring.

According to an FBI affidavit in the case, Hsu was returning home after undergoing brain surgery when the conflict happened in the flight.

The defendant's mother, Julia Yu, declined to comment after the hearing. She was on the plane with him at the time and is a witness in the case.

Hsu is accused of assaulting the flight attendant Wednesday aboard an American Airlines flight, which took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport and was bound for John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana before it had to be diverted to Denver International Airport, prosecutors said.

Four witnesses told the FBI that the flight attendant told Hsu to stay away from the plane's bathroom, prompting him to punch her in the face "with sufficient force to cause her to hit the lavatory door," the FBI alleged in an affidavit.

Another witness said it appeared the defendant punched her in a way that was "practiced or trained," according to the document. Another witness "recalled the victim stating, `I have a fractured nose' after the strike."

According to the affidavit, the flight attendant told an investigator said she was in the "mid-galley section of the airplane when she felt something strike her in the head." When she turned to see what had struck her she saw the defendant and she asked him if he was OK, the investigator wrote in the document.

Hsu did not apologize and said he needed to use the bathroom, the victim told the investigator. She told Hsu it was occupied and that because the "fasten seatbelt" sign was on he needed to go back to his seat, according to the document.

Hsu made a motion to stretch again, but instead slammed his elbow on her head, the victim told the FBI. That prompted her to take a "defensive posture with her arms out in front of her and her hands up."

Hsu backed off, but "then charged at her, flailing his arms," the victim told the investigator. Another flight attendant then rushed over to intervene and Hsu backed off again, but when he charged her again he "struck her in the face with the closed fist of his right hand," the victim said, according to the document.

The victim said she was "stunned and walked into the first-class cabin where she met up with the lead flight attendant and reported the assault," the FBI said.

An announcement was made for two men on the flight to help restrain Hsu.

Another flight attendant told Hsu to go sit down, which he did eventually, an FBI investigator stated in the document.

Hsu was then restrained with duct tape and "plastic bonds," according to the affidavit.

"Many witnesses commented on Hsu's odd behavior before and after the incident," the FBI said.

Witnesses told the investigator the defendant had gotten up from his seat and walked around and was "stretching an unusual amount," according to the document. After he was bound, Hsu claimed the flight attendant "came at me," and one witness said he was "unusually calm" before and after the alleged attack, the FBI said.

Hsu told investigators that he was returning home from New York after undergoing brain surgery in Rhode Island.

"The purpose of the brain surgery was to reconstruct portions of his skull," according to the FBI affidavit. "Hsu claimed that he received his skull injury in or around fall 2020 when he was assaulted in New York City. Hsu reported psychological damage from the injury, including ringing in his ears, nausea, dizziness, and loss of balance. He also stated that he is now sensitive to sound and sometimes experiences a mental `fog,' during which thinking is difficult. Hsu said his parents think he acts differently than he used to."

Hsu claimed he got up to use the bathroom and was standing and stretching outside of it as he waited his turn, according to the affidavit. He told the investigator he accidentally bumped into the flight attendant while stretching, prompting her to start "swinging at Hsu's head with her hands, but not her fists," according to the document.

Hsu said he was "scared because an impact to his head in its current state could cause him severe injury or death," so, "to prevent the victim from striking his head, Hsu claimed that he backed up toward his seat and raised his hands defensively, with his palms facing outward."

Hsu claimed the flight attendant then "charged at him and hit her nose against the palm of his right hands," according to the document. The defendant said he "does not recall how hard the impact was between the victim's nose and his palm," the FBI said.

Hsu also claimed that his "right hand sustained a football injury two or three weeks prior to the flight, which prevents him from making a fist with his right hand," according to the court document.

The victim's mother told the investigator that after her son's brain injury he suffered dizziness and "seems to become more easily angered." After the surgery, he was having trouble sitting still and would need to often stretch, according to his mother.

The defendant's mother said her son is "afraid of people touching his head," and added that "one of the fingers on his right hand is fractured, such that he cannot make a fist with his right hand," according to the FBI report. "She stated that this injury occurred during a workout" and that he had a doctor's appointment Thursday to have it checked out.

According to the court document, the defendant's mother told the flight attendant after the confrontation that her son "didn't mean it." A doctor on the flight checked on the flight attendant, who said she felt dizzy and nauseous as she dealt with her bloodied nose, the FBI investigator wrote. When the plane landed she was too dizzy to walk, and she was taken to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with a concussion. Her nose was too swollen to tell if it was broken, so she was told to get another test later, according to the court papers.

American Airlines issued a statement at the time saying, "Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines."

The airline announced that Hsu would no longer be permitted to fly on American.