Police report says passenger fought with officers before he was pulled from United flight
A passenger was dragged out of a United Airlines plane due to the airline overbooking the flight, creating yet another PR nightmare for United Airlines.
The Chicago aviation officers who forcibly removed a passenger from a United Airlines flight filed reports saying the traveler was “aggressive” when responding to requests to give up his seat and flailed his arms while fighting with officers.
The reports, released Monday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by the Los Angeles Times and others, contradict videos of the incident caught by fellow passengers on their cellphones and viewed by millions of people worldwide. Those videos show the passenger, Kentucky physician David Dao, refusing to give up his spot on a full flight, then being yanked from the seat by the officers, hitting his head against another seat and being dragged down the airplane’s aisle.
The ensuing public outrage prompted United Airlines to issue several apologies and launch a review of its procedures when dealing with sold-out flights. Chief Executive Oscar Munoz has promised that airline employees won’t call on law enforcement to remove passengers in the future if the incidents don’t involve safety or security.
The incident reports also reveal for the first time the names of the four officers involved in the incident, which left Dao, 69, with a concussion and other injuries. All four of those officers have been placed on administrative leave by the Chicago Department of Aviation, city records say.
The officers were identified as James Long, Mauricio Rodriguez Jr., Steven Smith and Sgt. John Moore. Two of the officers had previously been disciplined for workplace violations, according to city records.
Dao’s attorney, Chicago personal injury lawyer Thomas Demetrio, called the incident reports “utter nonsense. Consider the source.”
The April 9 flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., was full, and United tried to clear four seats to make room for airline employees who needed to work a shift the next day in Louisville. When the airline couldn’t get enough passengers to voluntarily give up their seats, the carrier picked four passengers to remove, including Dao.
In the incident reports, two of the officers blame Dao for his injuries, saying the passenger’s flailing motions made the officers lose their grip on him, causing him to fall face first into the armrest of a nearby seat.
After he was removed from the plane, the reports say, Dao was lying on the floor on the jet bridge talking to the officers when he bolted past them to get back into the plane. He agreed to leave the plane voluntarily to get medical attention, the reports say.
According to the police reports, Long, Rodriguez and Smith all urged Dao to leave his seat but he refused. Long tried to pull Dao out of his seat, with the help of Rodriguez and Smith, according to the reports.
But in his report, Long said, “the subject started swinging his arms up and down with a closed fist. Ofc. Long was able to grab the subject and pull him away from the window seat towards the aisle. But suddenly the subject started flailing and fighting.”
Long said Dao knocked the officer’s arm away, “which caused the subject to fall, hit, and injured his mouth on the armrest on the other side of the aisle.”
Rodriguez’s description of the incident was similar. “The subject then started flailing his arms and started to fight with Ofc. Long,” he wrote in the incident report.
Long had been suspended from his job for five days in March for ignoring a supervisor’s orders to keep vehicles from driving into a restricted area of the airport, according to documents provided by the city of Chicago.
Moore, who arrived after Dao was removed from the plane, had previously been disciplined at least seven times from 1999 to 2009 for failing to show up for work without notifying a supervisor, according to city records.
To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.