Rough Audience: 75-Year-Old Man Faces Seven Years in Jail for Airplane Joke

I have always have considerable concern over the constitutional basis for arresting people who make jokes in airports or airplanes about terrorism or bombs. Now, Draco Slaughter, 75, is facing seven years in prison for making a joke on the way off his flight.

Slaughter (an unfortunate name in this circumstance) was leaving Southwest Airlines Flight 373 after landing in New York when a flight attendant noticed an unclaimed carry-on bag near the back of the plane. Slaughter said it was his bag and joked that “there could be a bomb in there.” Wrong audience. The flight attendant called police and Slaughter was arrested.

What is astonishing is that prosecutors and police refused to simply release him with a warning to leave jokes for the taxi ride home — instead they jailed him and formally charged him.

Slaughter is still in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail until he goes back to court Friday.

What is striking about these cases is the lack of a clear criminal offense to fit the widespread policy at airports and airplanes. I have looked for the criminal code provision saying “thou shall not make jokes in airports.” This appears a rule that was simply manufactured by airport security — asserting the right to be joke monitors. That is reflected in the charge against Slaughter. He is not charged with “illegal jokes” but falsely reporting an incident. No one can seriously claim that he was reporting an incident in such a joke. If airport security personnel and staff want to arrest jokesters, they should ask Congress for such a law. Otherwise, the joke should be on them — not on a 75-year-old man who was doing the airplane version of the “pull my finger” gag.

For the full story, click here.

15 thoughts on “Rough Audience: 75-Year-Old Man Faces Seven Years in Jail for Airplane Joke”

  1. @John: I look forward to the trial, just so I can see you can say in court, “I was instructed to do that by [FBI Head].” We’ll see if you can keep a straight face. I know I won’t.

  2. The Good Ol’ US of PLPCS.

    United States of Humorless Paranoia and Lack of Prosecutorial Common Sense

  3. Oh, ok, I missed the part where he said it was HIS, which is different. Still, there are civilized ways to deal with this, like saying “Are you telling me that you have left an explosive device on this aircraft?” in a serious tone, to which 90% of jokesters would reply “No, I’m sorry, it was just a joke.” Then you make him know that is the kind of joke that creates big headaches for everyone. End of story.

    Leaving a 75 year old man in jail for several days for this is barbaric, much less bringing this to trial.

  4. @tll & pete

    He actually said it was his bag and joked that “there could be a bomb in there.” That is different from a casual remark about a random unattended bag.

    That said, I agree that felony charges are grossly disproportionate to what occurred and the prosecutor who OK’d them should be seriously looked at.

  5. i guess he could say “there might be dead fish in there” and there wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s just simple speculation on what may or may not be in a bag.

    if you say “there might be a dead rat in there and he might be carrying the plague” does that make it a terroristic threat?

    or just a stupid thing to say.

  6. This makes no sense. Saying “there may be a bomb” doesn’t even have to be a joke. If I report something suspicious, a bag under a bench in a waiting area, and get excited and say “There may be a bomb in there!” is that a crime? It is a real (although unlikely possibility). Why is it a crime to state the obvious?

  7. Tom.

    Sadly, if you were on such a jury I fear that you would be in a minority of one.

    You see, everyone is a hysteric these days otherwise you are a supporter of terrorism.

    Once more, pretty much the same here in the UK (but no jail time done so far). I’m amazed that we are the same nation that stood up to the IRA for 25 years until quite recently.

  8. I was talking to a FBI head about sarcastic remarks, and he told me to go to a airport and tell them I have a bomb once and see what happens….

    So should I do what he tells me?? After all the head of the Ohio FBI branch TOLD me to do it, and like he tries to point out sarcasm shouldn’t matter.

    (BTW this was in relation to the FBI covering up police abuse under the “color of law”.)

    And if the cops aren’t bad enough, now we have the courts ruling our rights away too…sad…

  9. Do these “charges” ever go to trial? Has any jury ever convicted a light-hearted joker on “false reporting” charges? Has a judge ever done so?

    At what point does it become criminal for police to repeatedly arrest people when it’s clear that they will never be formally charged, or that they will never face trial under this sort of circumstance. There must be legal precedents for this general issue.

    If there are few or no trials, let alone convictions, are the cities whose police make the arrests at airports (NY, Chicago, LA, etc) at serious risk of being successfully sued by people like this guy for having been arrested without good cause?

    If I was on a jury in either a criminal case or a civil case related to a situation like this, I have a hard time imagining circumstances where I would either vote to convict, or in the case of a civil case, not vote in favor of compensating the person who was arrested without a solid basis for doing so.

    I guess that in either case, the government’s lawyers would have to simply argue, “We all know that these are the rules, so don’t make trouble. After all, we are at war with Eurasia, er, I mean we are in the middle of the War on Terror.”

  10. I would think that if someone inspected the bag, this would would hav ebeen expedited. It just makes everyone look petty. It also highlights the fig leaf and overkill natures of most of our security measures.

  11. @AY: In fairness, I remember people being kicked off planes for joking about bombs during the Clinton years. 9/11 just eliminated any remaining humor in the subject.

    But yeah, criminal charges? I could see a fine, but not jail time.

  12. If Southwest is going to have people arrested for making bad jokes, it should start arresting its own employees. Comedians its flight attendants are not.

  13. Makes sense to me Prof. Why can’t people get a sense of humor? Oh yeah, the Bush/Chency-Obama Twilight years……Nothing to laugh at.

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