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 is really sad is that in this day and age many women still have not learned to be assertive, to believe they have a right to stand up for themselves. They don’t want to make wavesor a scene and possibly make the situation worse – or makes themselves look foolish. They’re not sure what to do and when. Perhaps they even deny that what is going on is truly what is going on. Perhaps, they let themselves think, they are misperceiving or misinterpreting the situation. This is particularly true in “‘sexual situations” that are full of inuendo and veiled suggestions. That being the case, they will tend to convince themselves that if they ignore it, it will go away.

    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?”

  2. Gene,

    You recall the Australian grandmother that took revenge after her granddaughter got raped… She was I recall about 80…. She blew the guys balls off…. For some reason no charges were brought….

  3. In Washington State, the definition of assault is not defined in the criminal code by statute. It is simply referenced. Degrees of assault are defined, but assault itself is not. Instead the state relies upon the common law for its establishment…

    RCW 9A.04.060

    RCW 9A.04.060
    Common law to supplement statute.

    The provisions of the common law relating to the commission of crime and the punishment thereof, insofar as not inconsistent with the Constitution and statutes of this state, shall supplement all penal statutes of this state and all persons offending against the same shall be tried in the courts of this state having jurisdiction of the offense.

    I have always found it strange of how this was not statutorily defined, like nearly everything else is, but that’s the way it has been since at least 1976 when the code was ratified.

  4. Kudos to the investigator and the skills employed to get this guy to admit to as much as he did thus giving them a case with which to work. Well done.

  5. Yea. Da cab picked him up at turdy turd and a turd, took em to da airport and da rest is luv story. Where was the plane going? To Vegas? She should have slapped him when he started talking that riddle of a language..

  6. Well, as long as he didn’t penetrate the woman, just chop of one of his hands………

  7. jeeze, why not tell the stewardess? Why did she drug herself and then not report this incident? Not to blame the victim here, but please ladies, stick up for yourselves if a creep is bothering you in public. Consuming the drugs in your purse is NOT the solution!

    Yea, this guy is a weirdo, but wtf is wrong with this lady?

  8. “independent financial services professional” : It has a nicer ring than whore or laidoff by a brokerage firm and unable to find a job.

  9. “Zorse is an “independent financial services professional”” Let him off, Doesen’t our great and wonderful AG have a standing order that people in the financial sector are exempt from our laws? But if it were me, I’d convict him of impersonating a pig.

  10. Another fine example of the consequences of vague, poorly drafted laws. And what mespo said. As for 40 caliber therapy? That seems like overkill, AY, but in the karmic sense of justice I don’t think many would shed a tear if this guy were to catch a swift kick to the balls. Personally, I think anyone who’d act this way in front of a 12 year old needs to be kept from being around 12 year olds.

  11. I suspect this statute is old, and needs to be revisited for a rewrite that will include a definition of “sexual assault” and an enhanced penalty for same. When did 50 year old men begin acting like oversexed teenage boys?

  12. I think the creep is going to plead out and be banned from traveling on that airline.

  13. Raff,

    I’m in agreement with you …. The guy needs some 40 caliber therapy if it was my daughters…..

  14. Creepy is putting it mildly. What comes to mind is punishment that has been administered to kids who were misbehaving…Make him stand on a busy street corner with signs front and back stating his offense…….plus a hefty fine and court costs. I agree with Bron that there should be a thorough check into his background to see if he has other charges of this kind of behavior.

  15. I think some men have a bit too high opinion of their desirability to the opposite sex.

    I guess he subscribes to “Seduction is for sissies, a he man likes his rape.”

    I would look into his past for date rape and the use of drugs. Any man assaulting a woman, especially one who is unconscious, has given up the right to be called a man.

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