POSTED: 02:51 p.m. HST, May 28, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 01:33 p.m. HST, May 29, 2013
PORTLAND, Ore. » An Alaska Airlines passenger accused of trying to open an emergency exit during a flight from Anchorage to Portland told investigators he has been diagnosed as bipolar and had not been taking his medicine.
Alexander Michael Herrera's statement was included in a criminal complaint released Tuesday, just before he made his first court appearance on a charge of attempted destruction of an aircraft. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Herrera, 23, of Rio Rico, Ariz., did not enter a plea. His arraignment was scheduled for June 26.
Herrera told Port of Portland police officers after Monday's arrest that he was ill, possibly schizophrenic, and had been hearing voices for four days. He said it had been more than a year since he took his medication for bipolar disorder.
His comments to police mesh with an interview his father gave to a Tucson television station Monday in which he said his son was bipolar and didn't take his medicine.
The younger Herrera told police he remembered boarding the flight, but did not remember anything that happened in the air. Passengers seated near Herrera on Flight 132 would likely say the opposite.
The complaint, based on the recollections of passengers, crew and police, states Herrera had a window seat in the emergency exit row. He started a calm and polite conversation with Robin Struempler, a woman seated next to him.
Herrera claimed he was psychic and asked the woman for her astrological sign.
He then asked: "What if I came to your home and pounded your kids?"
The burly, long-haired Herrera then turned his attention to the emergency exit, asking: "What would you do if I open the exit door?"
As the plane began its descent to Portland International Airport, Herrera allegedly told passenger Jake Struempler: "Let's see how this plays out."
Herrera, according to witnesses, left his seat and tried to open the door using all his weight — 220 pounds, according to jail information.
Struempler punched Herrera to get him to release the door. Other passengers helped wrestle Herrera to the ground and tie him with restraints. "Why are you doing this?" Herrera yelled. "Why are you trying to hurt me?"
At Tuesday's court appearance, Herrera appeared in a forest green, anti-suicide smock, and responded to federal Judge Janice Stewart in a clear voice.
Stewart ordered Herrera to remain in jail for now because he's a danger to the community and, with no ties to Oregon, a flight risk.
Herrera's public defender Ruben Iniguez asked for a detention hearing next week. Stewart agreed, but a date has not been set.
Iniguez declined comment on specifics of the case.
It's not clear why Herrera was flying to Portland. His father, Bill Herrera, told the television station that his son recently got a job in Anchorage.