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Calif. Man Guilty in Assault of Plane Passenger Over Reclined Seat

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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A San Francisco Bay area man was found guilty of assault Wednesday for choking and punching a fellow airline passenger after she kept reclining her seat, federal prosecutors said.

A jury found Lawrence Wells Jr., 54, of Richmond, guilty of misdemeanor assault for the Oct. 18 incident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said Thursday.

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Wells faces a maximum of six months in prison when he is sentenced in July, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The jury acquitted him of federal assault.

"Defendant’s violent reaction to the frustrations of air travel was beyond the bounds of civilized behavior,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. The plane was forced to turn around and land back at Los Angeles International Airport.

Wells allegedly became upset after the woman in front of him reclined her seat while the plane was delayed on the tarmac before takeoff, and a flight attendant ordered it placed upright, federal prosecutors said.

The plane didn’t take off until more than three hours after it was scheduled to depart. When the woman reclined her seat after taking off, Wells allegedly choked her for 5 to 10 seconds and punched her, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Wells’ attorney, Alan Eisner of Esiner Gorin LLP in Van Nuys, said Wells is remorseful for what happened.

"Larry wanted to accept responsibility for his conduct right at the outset of the case," Esiner said Thursday. "Larry understands clearly there’s no room for any physical conduct no matter how stressful the situation is," Eisner said.

The victim complained that she suffered a concussion, loss of appetite, anxiety and other harmful effects from the attack, prosecutors said.

"The victim was fortunate that she did not suffer greater injuries, because she had no way to defend herself from this defendant’s attack,” Decker said in a statement. Sentencing is set for June 27.

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