Three Long Island women have been indicted on federal charges they punched and kicked a Delta airline security officer at John F. Kennedy International Airport last year after they were prohibited from boarding a flight to Puerto Rico, prosecutors announced Thursday.
The women – identified as Janessa Torres, who turns 22 Friday, of Central Islip; her mother Johara Zavala, 44, of Central Islip and Torres' friend Jordan Nixon, 21, of Bay Shore – were each indicted on a single count of interference with security screening personnel, prosecutors said.
All three defendants pleaded not guilty during their Thursdayarraignments, which were conducted virtually because of the current coronavirus surge. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon ordered a $25,000 guaranteed bond for each defendant.
"The defendants viciously assaulted an airline security officer by beating him to the floor with his radio and then kicking and punching him in the face and body while he was down," said Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
"The extreme and aggressive behavior in connection with our air travel is out of control," Peace added. "This Office has zero tolerance for violent conduct that threatens the safety of airline passengers and employees and will prosecute defendants who allegedly engage in such conduct to the fullest extent of the law."
During Thursday's proceeding, Scanlon also approved a request by Torres' attorney for the woman to travel to Florida -- by airplane -- for a pre-paid, four-day vacation for her 22nd birthday.
"All three defendants were alleged to be very intoxicated and Miss Torres is not even mentioned in the course of events until it is very far underway," Torres’ attorney, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, told the judge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nina Gupta objected to the request.
Nixon’s defense attorney, Peter Guadagnino, said his client, a beauty school student, "denies the allegations" and has no prior criminal record.
Zavala’s attorney, Jacob Mitchell, declined to comment when reached by phone.
According to federal prosecutors, between around 9 a.m. and their flight’s scheduled 12:55 p.m. departure on Sept. 22, Nixon, Torres and Zavala ordered nine alcoholic beverages from restaurants and bars at the airport, as evidenced from surveillance video and receipts. Zavala was "having difficulty walking and appeared to be disoriented" when the trio arrived at the departure gate, and Nixon was "holding a clear to-go cup filled with an orange beverage, which smelled like alcohol," prosecutors said.
A member of the flight crew and the captain determined that "all three defendants should be denied boarding because they were acting belligerent, one of the defendants was refusing to wear her mask properly, and Zavala was visibly disoriented and possibly intoxicated," according to court papers. The women were told they could try to rebook for later that day.
When the security officer, identified in court papers as Employee-2, asked the women to leave the jetway "they refused and proceeded to yell and curse" at him, prosecutors said in court papers.
Nixon removed his clipped-on radio and they struggled as the security officer tried to gain control of it, the court papers said. Another employee tried to intervene and Zavala punched that employee in the face, the court papers said.
The security officer fell to the ground and "all three defendants hit and kicked Employee-2 with their feet and fists while he was on the floor," court papers said.
Torres, according to prosecutors, "stepped on the head and face of Employee-2, causing his upper lip to bleed." He "received blows to the nose, causing bleeding and swelling," and his vest was torn apart by the defendants as he tried to flee, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors claim they have "multiple eyewitnesses" who will testify that all three women continued to attack the security officer "even when others intervened to assist him."
The three women had been arrested and arraigned the same day of the incident on state charges and were released on a personal recognizance bond, federal prosecutors said, but the case has since been dismissed. However, federal prosecutors cited Nixon and Zavala’s failure to appear in court earlier this month for a status conference in the case. Torres and her attorney appeared.
"Due to Nixon’s and Zavala’s failure to appear for a court-ordered status conference, a combination of bail conditions is necessary to assure the defendants’ continued appearance," the prosecutors said.