CHULA VISTA, Calif. — A Chula Vista man was in custody Friday after he was charged in federal court with shining a laser into the cockpit of a Border Patrol helicopter, authorities said.
Michael Angelo Ramirez, 27, was arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Diego on a charge of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman’s office said. The charge carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and Ramirez was taken into custody after the hearing.
Ramirez allegedly aimed the laser into the cockpit of an Air and Marine Operations A-Star helicopter on Aug. 19 as it flew over power lines near Proctor Valley Road in Chula Vista, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Christopher Riccardi wrote in a probable cause affidavit. Ramirez later said he thought he was shining the laser at a drone.
“The cockpit was illuminated by the laser beam which caused the cockpit to light up briefly,” Riccardi said.
Federal prosecutors said the laser caused the spotter in the helicopter to close his eyes, “a dangerous situation as the helicopter flew over power lines.”
The helicopter’s pilot maneuvered the aircraft above the Jeep Patriot where the laser was coming from and lit up the SUV with a search light, Riccardi said. As the helicopter followed the Jeep with its search light focused on the vehicle, “the laser beam continued being aimed at the aircraft.”
The CBP helicopter followed the Jeep to a shopping center in Chula Vista at Proctor Valley Road and Mt. Miguel Road where Chula Vista police intercepted the SUV and questioned its occupants, Riccardi said. Ramirez, the passenger, told police he shined the laser at what he thought was a drone, and the drone shined a bright light back.
“Ramirez stated he (then) realized he was shining his laser at a helicopter and not a drone so he turned it off,” Riccardi said.
But the Jeep’s driver told police he watched Ramirez point the laser at the aircraft and knew right away it was a helicopter, not a drone, Riccardi said. Ramirez was arrested at the time but released before being taken back into custody Thursday following his arraignment.