Texas woman charged for assault on flight attendant

Published 10:21 am Monday, November 15, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO – Debby Dutton appeared today in federal court in Houston, Texas, to face the charge filed in San Francisco federal court of interference with an aircraft flight by assault upon a flight attendant, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  Today’s hearing in Houston federal court initiates the first steps in a procedure to obtain an order directing Dutton to appear to face the charge against her in San Francisco federal court.

According to the complaint, Dutton, 50, of Cypress, Texas, was a passenger onboard a United Airline flight from Alaska to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on June 29, 2021.  Early in the flight, flight attendants broadcasted several safety announcements over the plane’s intercom.  The broadcasts included multiple announcements about the federal mask mandate on commercial flights.  The broadcasts announced that passengers must wear their masks at all times and further advised the passengers that their masks will likely fall off and, if while asleep, a flight attendant will wake them up to put their masks back on, which may upset them.

The complaint affidavit describes that approximately three and a half hours into the four and a half hour flight, a flight attendant walked down the aisle to collect trash and check passengers for face mask compliance.  The flight attendant noticed several passengers without face masks and asked  them to put their face masks back on. One passenger was asleep, and his face mask had fallen from his face.  According to the complaint, the flight attendant used two fingers to tap that passenger on the shoulder and asked him to put his face mask back on.  The passenger complied.

Dutton was the wife of that passenger and was sitting next to him.  As the flight attendant continued down the aisle, the complaint affidavit describes that Dutton got up from her seat and angrily shouted at the flight attendant.  The flight attendant tried to explain that the passenger had not been wearing his face mask, but Dutton continued to scream and walked towards the flight attendant.

The complaint affidavit describes that Dutton pushed the flight attendant.  The force of the push on the flight attendant’s right arm caused the attendant to step back to maintain balance.  Dutton pushed the flight attendant again, once more on the flight attendant’s right arm. The flight attendant told Dutton to stop.  The passenger asked his wife Dutton to return to her seat, which Dutton eventually did.  The flight attendant immediately reported the incident to the captain.

The flight attendant, as described in the complaint, was caught off guard and felt threatened and afraid.  The flight attendant further described the assault as painful and forceful.  The pushes left bruising on the flight attendant’s right bicep.  The flight attendant sought medical attention after the flight.

Law enforcement officers subsequently interviewed multiple passengers who either saw or heard part of the incident.

Dutton initially appeared on the federal complaint today before a United States Magistrate in Houston, Texas.  Dutton’s next appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, November 16, in Houston federal court.  Dutton is out of custody.

Dutton has been charged with one count of interference by assault, threat, or intimidation with flight crew members or attendants, in violation of Title 49, United States Code, Section 46504.  The charge carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine.  Any sentence following conviction, however, is imposed by a court only after the court’s consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 USC § 3553.

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are mere allegations.  As in any criminal case, the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The case is being prosecuted by the General Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, with thanks to the San Francisco Police Department, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, United Airlines, and the San Francisco International Airport for their cooperation.