New York Man Charged with Assaulting Woman on Flight With His Teenage Son

brettzorseBrett Zorse, 50, (shown here in a photo from Facebook) reportedly had a curious defense when he was accused of fondling a female passenger next to him on a JetBlue flight with his 12-year-old son. The alleged victim told police that when she confronted him he told her crudely that at least he did not penetrate her. Not exactly the best criminal defense the New Yorker could stake out on a charge of assault. He told police that he thought he had “bonded” with the 32-year-old woman. However, the federal assault provision seems dangerously vague on the element of this crime.

Zorse was on a flight on April 12, 2012 from San Francisco to New York to return to his home on the East Side of Manhattan with his son. The alleged victim said that Zorse engaged her in conversation on the flight but that Zorse’s “conversations throughout the flight all turned to a sexual nature” and that he was very “touchy feely.” When he was going to get something from the upper bin, she offered to do it for him to avoid having him climb over her. Zorse allegedly responded “I’d really like to climb all over you.”

The woman eventually took a medication to sleep on the flight but woke up as they were approaching JFK International Airport to allegedly find Zorse “massaging her thigh underneath her skirt.” It is not clear where Zorse’s teenage son is during this scene. However, when the woman objected, she said Zorse responded “It’s not like I molested you. It’s not like I stuck my finger in your pussy or grabbed your tits.” He then allegedly added, “I wouldn’t mind a massage right now.”

The woman left her seat in tears but had to return to land. Remarkably, she did not tell anyone about the incident until later when she contacted JetBlue and the NYPD. The police say that Zorse admitted to only placing his hand on the woman’s leg for about 30 seconds and that it was the 32 year old woman who was flirting with this 50 year old man. He reported that she was “telling him he was attractive and he was a good father.” Being a good father appears to include hitting on a woman on a flight with your son and saying suggestive sexual things to her.

He admits that he “could have said something like ‘It’s not like I stuck my finger up your pussy or grabbed your tits,’” according to police.

Zorse is an “independent financial services professional” though there is not a great deal of information about him.

We have seen such groping cases previously, including a conviction of a Rabbi on a New York flight. The case will turn on the credibility of the witnesses since it does not appear that a third person saw Zorse’s actual touching of the woman. There may be witnesses on her leaving her seat crying. However, if there are no witnesses, the testimony would seem to stand in equipoise. If the court (this is a misdemeanor offense) accepts that only a hand on the leg can be confirmed from these facts, is it enough for assault on a plane where people routinely come into contact with one another?

This is a federal charge since it occurred on an airplane. However, the New York assault in third degree provision requires intent to cause injury or reckless/negligence injury:

S 120.00 Assault in the third degree.
A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when:
1. With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes
such injury to such person or to a third person; or
2. He recklessly causes physical injury to another person; or
3. With criminal negligence, he causes physical injury to another
person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.
Assault in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor.

Zorse is charged under 18 U.S.C. 113 which is remarkably ill-defined on the topic of “simple assault”:

(a) Whoever, within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, is guilty of an assault shall be punished as follows:
(1) Assault with intent to commit murder, by imprisonment for not more than twenty years.
(2) Assault with intent to commit any felony, except murder or a felony under chapter 109A, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.
(3) Assault with a dangerous weapon, with intent to do bodily harm, and without just cause or excuse, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.
(4) Assault by striking, beating, or wounding, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.
(5) Simple assault, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both, or if the victim of the assault is an individual who has not attained the age of 16 years, by fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both.
(6) Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.
(7) Assault resulting in substantial bodily injury to an individual who has not attained the age of 16 years, by fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both.
(b) As used in this subsection—
(1) the term “substantial bodily injury” means bodily injury which involves—
(A) a temporary but substantial disfigurement; or
(B) a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; and
(2) the term “serious bodily injury” has the meaning given that term in section 1365 of this title.

While the higher forms of assault are defined clearly, simple assault is not. That leads to a dangerous degree of ambiguity. In tort, assault is the intent to cause an apprehension of harmful or offensive contact without the consent of the individual. In criminal law, however, it is presumable more than the criminalization of the tort standard. Indeed, most states follow the same rough definition of the New York statute like the Florida provision:

784.011 Assault.—

(1) An “assault” is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.
(2) Whoever commits an assault shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

It seems to me that the federal standard is seriously flawed as the basis for a criminal charge, putting aside any feelings toward Zorse. What do you think?

Source: Smoking Gun

32 thoughts on “New York Man Charged with Assaulting Woman on Flight With His Teenage Son

  1. “What I wish she could have done was to say LOUDLY when he first started being his piggish best, “You want to stick your what where? Keep your sexual suggestions and hands to yourself! Flight Attendant, I need a new seat or handcuffs and a gag for this perv beside me?”” -drsigne

    That makes two of us. Well said. All of it.

  2. I posted the below link elsewhere but it sort of fits here. It’s all about a sense of entitlement- I’m entitled to do whatever I want and because I’m entitled it’s not a crime, it’s not even wrong.

    Some groups of people by minority or sex only become ‘lesser than’ because others feel ‘better than’ and entitled to that attitude and entitled to enforce that attitude. Cops beat up and harass people because they are entitled to by virtue of their badge and the support of their chain of command. Wall Street feels entitled to play with the worlds economy (and demand their bonus’) because they’re entitled to based on the response of the government’s they should be accountable to but are not.

    This guy is just another a** with an inflated sense of entitlement to do whatever he wants. His response establishes pretty well where his self-imposed boundaries lie.

    1, March 24, 2013 at 2:14 am
    Interesting ad campaign:

    “Ford India Needs to Fire Its Advertising Execs”

    Sure, we use sex to sell cars and the concept is that women are so shallow a nice car owned by a guy will do it. Tacky. We don’t use (even in jest) the premise that if you’re going to kidnap women use a Ford, the trunk space is great. Considering the cast of characters this appears to be a satirical campaign but c’mon, considering the culture it’s a campaign that may ‘work’ on multiple levels and really, is Ford in India that clueless?

  3. “Yea, this guy is a weirdo, but wtf is wrong with this lady?”

    She just got felt up by a stranger in a confined space.

    There might be some connection between the fact that this guy thought he could get away with it, and how many peoples reaction is to publicly shame the victim for not reacting like they think she should.

  4. Gyges, very possibly. Travel in confined spaces has proven not to be safe for women world wide, I wasn’t yet a teen when I learned that fact riding buses and my experience was not untypical in talking to my schoolmates. Many countries now have women-only train cars. Many cultures do not encourage women to make a scene in public. I recall reading that that was a problem in Japan, women just tried to evade their gropers on a subway, to do otherwise would have been unseemly, they didn’t cause a fuss.

    I see the women only transportation solution to be a cop out, the city/country/owners of the transportation system has just given up changing the cultures attitude about women. I would think it would put women that didn’t ride in the women-only cars in more danger of being groped or worse.

    ” “Japan instituted women-only train cars after a staggering 64 percent of women in their 20s and 30s said they had been groped at transit stations or on trains and subways in Tokyo, even though gropers face imprisonment or hefty fines.” ….

    On crowded trains, women can be a prime target for groping, theft and other personal safety concerns. One way of addressing such concerns is by providing trains specifically designed for women who, in jam-packed cars, have no easy way of escaping or even targeting an assault once people file out of the train. These cars, sometimes labeled in pink as “women only,” have proliferated internationally from their start in Japan in 2000. (The New York Times reported of plans for women-only cars on Cairo’s subway as early as 1990.) Now such cars and buses are available in India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil. ….”

  5. lottakatz,
    While having to create separate cars for women is absolutely essential to protect women in certain countries, it unfortunately reinforces the notion that women are weak, vulnerable, and victims to be protected in their male-dominated cultures. Thus, when they are not separately protected, they are available to be preyed upon by men.

    It further dictates that’s it’s the women who have to change, not the men. It reminds me of when the police in this country told women to stay in at night if they wanted to avoid being raped. Both are instances of controlling the behavior of women who are the victims of those crime rather than controlling the behavior of men who are the perpetrators of those crimes. It’s also another aspect of the blame the victim ideology.

  6. drsigne, I disagree that separate cars suggests that women have to change. It means that men can be pigs and don’t deserve the company of women. When going about my own business I should not have to constantly be on the defensive for my own protection. If riding in a separate car provides me with peace of mind (and body) I’m all for it.

  7. bettykath, I totally agree with protection of women no matter what it takes. But I would like to see some real signs of attempts by the countries, even on a city-basis, to change the culture of men feeling free to rape women whenever they have access to them. When the women are not in protected conveyances, they are still vulnerable to those men who wish to do them harm. The women cannot be protected all the time. The culture, attitudes, and behavior of men in those countries needs to change in order for women to be safer in general..

  8. This man is not a creep. He worked his way up from the mail room at Solomon’s to establish a stolid business serving a high-end clientele who depend on his expertise to keep their personal wealth safe. I happen to know of his commitment to more than five NYC charities. I know none of you Internet cruisers have spent a single minute of your lives thinking of any other individual but yourselves. I know he sold a classic gull wing Mercedes he imported at a $200000 loss to endow an autism research lab in Florida. Also I know of his passion for justice that compelled him to use the d

  9. Samuel London Pierce, “This man is not a creep. … I happen to know of his commitment to more than five NYC charities.” So what?! All you are demonstrating is that he, like most individuals, has many aspects to his life. His charity work does not preclude his less-than-admirable public sexual proclivities as demonstrated on the plane. BTW, your making pejorative and erroneous assumptions about to what degree those who post here likewise may help charities further lessens the impact of your defense of this man.

  10. Women can never win in such a situation. They will be disbelieved or mocked. And you can be reasonably sure that men wrote those laws.

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