The 32-year-old man accused of punching a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant twice in an alleged unprovoked attack on a Sept. 23 flight was ordered by a federal judge to remain in federal custody.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom Trader held a hearing Thursday at Honolulu federal court for Steven Sloan Jr., who has been in custody at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center since last week on charges of assault and interference with a flight crew.
Trader ordered Sloan to remain detained to mitigate any risk of danger he might pose to the community or himself.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Ching said Sloan should be detained, citing Sloan’s mental health issues and drug use.
“Given the defendant’s current situation, and this is based on the fact that the government is alleging that this was an unprovoked attack as well as the defendant’s mental health issues, which included at least admissions that he’s been hearing voices for the last two weeks and that there’s reporting that someone who knows him also said that he’s been hearing voices for the last four weeks. Given his drug use and the safety issues, which I won’t detail that are contained in the pretrial services report with regard to him as well as the safety of others, the government agrees that at this time he should be detained,” Ching said.
Federal public defender Salina Kanai argued Sloan has no criminal history or any history of violence.
“I do understand the court may have some things that give it pause,” Kanai said. “There’s recent use of drugs. There’s some mental issues potentially and, of course, the nature of the allegation. But I think those three things alone should not be barriers in a case where this is a nonpresumption case.”
Kanai noted there are conditions of release that can be fashioned to mitigate the risks, such as a substance abuse treatment program, mental health counseling and GPS monitoring, if necessary.
She added Sloan is willing to get treatment.
The alleged unprovoked attack occurred on Hilo- bound Flight HA 152 on the morning of Sept. 23 shortly after its departure from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
The flight attendant was walking down the aisle to collect trash when Sloan, who was seated in a sixth-row aisle seat, punched him in the chest, according to an FBI affidavit.
Soon after, Sloan arose from his seat and pulled his right hand back as if he was going to punch him again. The flight attendant attempted to cover his body when he felt a punch to the back left side of his head.
Sloan then sat back down “as if nothing had happened,” the affidavit said.
The flight, carrying 80 passengers and five crew members, was diverted back to Honolulu, where deputy sheriffs boarded the plane and arrested him.
Born in Hawaii, Sloan has been living on Molokai for the past 10 years where he has family members who live there.
During the hearing, Trader said there are factors that may be appropriate for his release such as his lack of a criminal record and ties to the community.
“The court, however, is very concerned with his current situation, in particular, most importantly, his current mental health condition. That coupled with admitted substance abuse issues really gives the court a significant amount of concern as to whether or not he can safely be released into the community,” he added. “While the circumstances of this offense are alarming, what’s most concerning is the sort of unprovoked nature of the alleged conduct in this case.”
Sloan’s next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14.