Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Northern California Man Who Choked Woman on an Airplane Convicted of Assault
LOS ANGELES – A Northern California man has been convicted of a federal assault charge for choking and hitting a fellow passenger on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Lawrence Wells, Jr., 54, of Richmond, California, was convicted by a jury yesterday afternoon in United States District Court of federal misdemeanor assault.
According to the evidence at trial, Wells and the victim were passengers on board Southwest Airlines flight 2010 from Los Angeles to San Francisco on October 18 last year. Wells was seated directly behind the victim. The flight was scheduled to take off from Los Angeles International Airport at 7:10 p.m. but was delayed both in boarding and on the tarmac. While the flight was on the tarmac, the victim reclined her seat. Wells summoned a flight attendant and angrily pointed at the victim’s reclined seat. The flight attended instructed the victim to return her seat to the upright position.
The flight did not actually take off until 10:30 p.m. A few minutes after the flight left Los Angeles, the victim reclined her seat again. At that time, Wells reached around the victim’s chair and choked her for five to ten seconds. He also punched her in the head with a closed fist. The pilot returned the flight to LAX.
“Defendant’s violent reaction to the frustrations of air travel was beyond the bounds of civilized behavior,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The victim was fortunate that she did not suffer greater injuries, because she had no way to defend herself from this defendant’s attack.”
The victim testified that, as a result of the assault, she suffered a concussion and experienced persistent nausea, dizziness, headaches, neck pain, loss of appetite, significant anxiety, and ringing in her ear, among other symptoms. The jury, however, acquitted the defendant of the felony count of assault causing serious bodily injury.
After Wells’ conviction yesterday, United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner set sentencing for June 27, 2016. At that time, defendant will face a statutory maximum sentence of six months in federal prison.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.