News Story

Oklahoman, Business Section, Saturday, June 4, 2005,6B.
Byline: Julie Bisbee

Headline: Man Pleads Not Guilty in Scuffle
DALLAS — An Oklahoma man accused of assaulting a Southwest Airlines flight attendant and causing a flight from Houston to Tulsa to land in Dallas pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court.

In a two-count indictment, Steven K. Maxwell, 24, is accused of assaulting and intimidating a Southwest Airlines’ flight attendant and biting and hitting another passenger.

Maxwell appeared in court Friday before U.S. Magistrate Irma Ramirez with his wife and father-in-law. Both offenses, interference with flight crew members and assault in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, are federal offenses. Federal officials say Maxwell’s unruly behavior forced the plane to land at Dallas Love Field in July.

Maxwell, who lives in the Tulsa area, suffers from hip problems and was in pain when he allegedly lashed out at a flight attendant, his attorney David Finn said.
This is a serious allegation, but there is no indication that he had a weapon or a gun,â€? Finn said. “There was no serious bodily injury and no indication that he tried to storm the cockpit.â€?

Maxwell was honorably discharged from the Army in 2002 after he sustained injuries to his hips and legs in a military vehicle accident while he was stationed in Colorado as an artillery officer, Finn said.

The scuffle on the jetliner began after a passenger sitting in front of Maxwell pushed his seat into Maxwell’s legs and hips several times, his attorney said.

“I imagine that the pain was so excruciating, and that’s when things got out of hand,â€? Finn said.

At the time of the incident, Maxwell was taking prescribed pain medication.

After the altercation with the flight attendant, Maxwell locked himself in the bathroom for several minutes. When he tried to return to his seat, Maxwell had a physical struggle with another passenger who attempted to subdue him.

The indictment accuses Maxwell of biting the other passenger’s hand and hitting him in the lip. Southwest Airlines declined comment on the pending case, airline spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said.

If convicted, Maxwell could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and face fines of $500,000. An Aug. 8 trial date has been set.

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