A woman arrested and charged in an alleged assault aboard a Delta Air Lines flight on Thursday hit a passenger in the face and spat on him after an argument over her remark about Rosa Parks, according to federal court records.
Patricia Yannet Cornwall is charged with assault while aboard an aircraft, according to the criminal complaint released Monday and filed in U.S. District Court's Northern District of Georgia.
The complaint was written by a task force officer with the FBI who is assigned to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The physical encounter was partially videotaped by a passenger and used as evidence against Cornwall, the complaint said.
The passenger Cornwall allegedly assaulted was only identified as R.S.M. in the complaint. The fight occurred on Delta Flight 2790 from Tampa, Florida to Atlanta, according to the complaint.
A nearly two-minute video captured by a third passenger indicates the point of contention being masks. However, the complaint says the argument escalated after Cornwall invoked Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer who refused to sit in the back of a segregated Alabama bus.
R.S.M., per the complaint, told authorities Cornwall made the Parks remark to a flight attendant while returning from the bathroom. The flight attendant asked Cornwall to find an open seat until beverage service was completed, the complaint said.
"CORNWALL responded to the flight attendant, 'What am I Rosa Parks?'" the complaint said. "R.S.M. believed CORNWALL'S comment was inappropriate and he responded to CORNWALL that she 'isn't black .... this isn't Alabama and this isn't a bus,'" the complaint said.
The argument escalated with Cornwall and R.S.M. hurling insults at each other, then she "struck R.S.M. with a closed fist, striking R.S.M. about the head, causing visible injury. CORNWALL then spit in R.S.M's face and head area," according to the complaint.
Cornwall was detained at the Atlanta airport, where police spoke to Delta workers and the alleged victim, who identified Cornwall as the alleged culprit, the complaint said.
Police confirmed they detained Cornwall when the flight landed, Atlanta police said in a statement.
“This disturbance led to the injury of fellow passengers and Delta employees. Based on the statements gathered and visible evidence, officers detained Ms. Cornwall and contacted the on-call FBI agent. ... FBI agents responded and took custody of Ms. Cornwall,” police said.
Delta said in a statement Monday: “Flight 2790 from Tampa to Atlanta was met by law enforcement after an unruly customer disturbance during flight. Situations like these are rare for the vast majority of our customers and Delta has zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and aboard our aircraft.”
Cornwall appeared in federal court Monday. Court documents show she was released on $20,000 bond.
Her attorney could not be immediately reached Tuesday. Some conditions imposed on Cornwall by the court included surrendering her passport, not possessing guns or weapons and abstaining from alcohol and drug use, court records show.
Video posted to Instagram shows a woman, whose mask is around her neck and below her chin, speaking to a man sitting in his seat. The video does not show the beginning of the confrontation. The two curse at each other throughout the nearly two-minute video.
The woman repeatedly tells the man to put his mask on. At one point, the man responds: “You’re a ... Karen. Sit down.” “Karen” is slang typically referring to an entitled white woman. He also points out that the woman’s mask is down before he calls her a vulgarity.
After the woman asks the man whether he called her the profanity, the video appears to show her slapping him in the face.
The man responds: “Now you’re going to jail. That’s assault. You’re going to jail as soon as we get to Atlanta.”
The video also shows the man claiming the woman spit on him. The woman is escorted away from the man by multiple people.
The Federal Aviation Administration last month reported that 10 passengers were hit with fines totaling $225,287 because of allegations of unruly behavior on flights. In those cases, according to the FAA, passengers shoved flight attendants, used expletives, threw fits and refused to comply with the FAA requirement for masks.
As of last month, the FAA had documented 5,114 reports of unruly passengers and 3,710 reports of refusing to wear masks this year. It said 239 cases led to penalties.
To curb what it has described as a dramatic increase in unruly or dangerous behavior aboard passenger airplanes, the FAA released a public service announcement in August with a simple message: “Unruly behavior doesn’t fly.”