Kern County Man Sentenced for Laser Strike on Sheriff’s Helicopter

Fresno, California - Senior United States District Anthony W. Ishii sentenced Brett Lee Scott, 26, of Buttonwillow, to one year and nine months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for aiming a laser pointer at a law enforcement aircraft, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Scott used two different laser pointers to strike Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, over a six-month period. Scott explained his actions by stating that he was bored. The lasers emitted powerful green or purple beams. As a result, the pilots of Air-1 suffered flash blindness that lasted a few minutes, causing disorientation. The pilots were ultimately able to pinpoint the origin of the beams and, with the help of patrol deputies, identified Scott as a suspect. Both laser pointers in this case exceeded the legal power emission limit. One of the lasers was 17 times more powerful than what is legally permissible.

“This is a truly senseless crime, and a very serious one,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Defendants like Mr. Scott, who thoughtlessly point lasers at an aircraft for their short-sighted amusement, put lives at risk and create the very real possibility that a needless tragedy will occur. My office will continue to prosecute these cases vigorously and will work with the FBI and our local law enforcement partners to send the message that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

“Boredom is no excuse for pointing a laser at an aircraft. Scott’s sentence reinforces our message to the public: This activity is a violation of federal law and is a serious risk to public safety,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the Sacramento FBI. “Scott may have been located and arrested, but stopping such reckless activity is the only way to ensure public safety. Everyone is encouraged to discuss the risks of this activity with their families. Please report anyone shining a laser at an aircraft to 911 immediately.”

According to the FAA, there were 3,960 reports of people shining lasers at aircraft in the United States in 2013. In the 34-county Eastern District of California, 94 laser strikes were reported, with the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Bakersfield Meadows Field Airport reporting the most. Law enforcement and emergency transport helicopters are particularly vulnerable, since they typically fly at lower altitudes. Their convex-shaped windows also cause greater refraction and visual interference when the beam of a laser strikes. Night-vision goggles can also amplify the beam and pose a greater threat of visual interference. Earlier this year, as a result of the increasing threat of laser strikes on aircraft, the FBI in Sacramento, along with several other cities in the United States that have reported a large number of laser incidents, launched a public awareness campaign regarding the issue and offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of a laser offender. Since the launch of the public awareness campaign, the FBI reports a nationwide decrease in the number of laser incidents. However, the number of laser incidents in the Eastern District has increased.

The case against Scott was the result of a joint investigation conducted by the FBI and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.

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