A flight attendant from Arizona accused of making bogus bomb threats on two Skywest flights in 2015 on the East Coast and in the upper Midwest pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in North Dakota, saying he made the threats because he wanted to be recognized as a hero.
Justin Cox-Sever, 23, who was living in Tempe, Arizona, at the time of the threats, will not spend any time in prison. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced him to up to five months in a transitional facility, five months on home confinement and three years of supervised release. He will serve the sentence in California, where he's now living.
Cox-Sever was accused of making threats on a July 2015 flight from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Chicago, and on a September 2015 flight from Minneapolis to Dickinson, North Dakota. In the first incident, the plane had to turn around mid-flight. The second incident resulted in the temporary shutdown of the Dickinson airport.
Cox-Sever in February reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to four of five charges related to interfering with an aircraft, with prosecutors dropping a fifth count in return. Hovland on Thursday accepted the agreement and the recommendation of both the prosecution and defense that Cox-Sever not spend time in a federal prison.
Cox-Sever has a history of bipolar disorder, an autism disorder and a brain injury, defense attorney Michelle Monteiro said. While that doesn't excuse his actions, she said, its helps "explain why something like this could happen."
Cox-Sever said in court that he had witnessed a fellow flight attendant be recognized for her handling of a plane emergency.
"I decided to fake these (bombs threats) to sort of get the recognition she did," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme said he didn't want Cox-Sever to get a "slap on the wrist" because his actions subjected the plane's passengers to an "increased level of anxiety, probably for the rest of their life, all because Mr. Cox-Sever wanted to be a hero."
FBI Special Agent Daniel Genck wrote in an affidavit filed in the case that Cox-Sever admitted planting a bag with towels on the North Dakota flight and reporting it as a suspicious package making beeping noises. Genck said Cox-Sever admitted writing a threat on a wall of the plane's bathroom in the Virginia case. Emergencies were declared on both flights. No injuries were reported.
Cox-Sever was charged in federal courts in North Dakota and Virginia, complicating the matter and resulting in his trial being delayed eight times. The cases were consolidated in federal court in North Dakota earlier this year.
Cox-Sever is no longer employed by SkyWest. The airline won't say whether he quit or was fired.