U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Soccer Players Interfered With Flight Crew: Convictions Upheld

Soccer players Jonathan Petras and Wisam Shaker were slow to learn the rules for unruly passengers aboard commercial airlines.

You can't curse at flight attendants. You can't make obscene gestures at them. You can't threaten them and call them names like "ugly," "racist," or "pig."

Petras and Shaker finally learned the rules after the pilot landed the plane and police escorted them off to face criminal charges. Put another way, that's the way a ball player bounces.

Interfering With a Flight Crew

Under 49 U.S.C. Section 46504, it is a crime to assault or intimidate a flight crew in the performance of their duties. Petras and Shaker learned that rule when they were indicted.

In United States of America v. Petras, the soccer players were also convicted of the crime. They appealed on various grounds to no avail.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals court considered their claim that the prosecution discriminated against them by excluding two black jurors. The government attorneys used their preemptory challenges on the potential jurors because one had an eye piercing and had never flown before; the other said he discriminated against Muslims.

"These explanations are not, on their face, racially tinged," the appeals panel said. "Indeed, we have consistently held that features such as facial piercings can serve as legitimate, race-neutral reasons to strike."

Muslim Discrimination

Considering the anti-Muslim juror, the judges said it was a closer call. The juror said he was in favor of a wall to stop illegal immigration, believed there were too many illegal aliens in the country, and was in favor of banning Muslims.

While the soccer players were Chaldean Christians, the anti-Muslim also said "it's okay to discriminated based on religion" because "it's some personal responsibility."

That's another rule the soccer players learned. The court ordered them to pay $6,890 for the flight's unscheduled stop to get them off the plane.

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