Federal and state authorities in Michigan continue to withhold the identity of a North Carolina pastor accused of urinating on a Delta airline passenger on a flight that landed Oct. 12 in Detroit.
The Winston-Salem Journal filed an electronic request Oct. 16 under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for a police report about the incident. The request was filed with the Wayne County (Mich.) Airport Authority.
In an email Friday, that agency said it would respond to the Journal's request on Monday, two weeks after the incident happened.
A Michigan woman told a Detroit television station that she woke up to someone urinating on her while she was on a Delta flight home to Detroit from Las Vegas. That someone happened to be a well-known North Carolina pastor, according to a report from WJBK-TV, FOX 2 News in Detroit.
The pastor, who hasn’t been publicly identified, was issued a court appearance for misdemeanor assault and released, said Mara Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Detroit office of the FBI.
“Until he appears in front of a judge and therefore gets formally charged, we will not be releasing his name,” Schneider said.
Schneider said she didn’t know the scheduled date of the pastor’s court appearance. She said the FBI learned about the incident through the Wayne County Airport police who initially responded to the incident.
Ronald Wright, a professor of criminal law at the Wake Forest University School of Law, said that federal authorities likely are using an exception outlined in the federal Freedom of Information Act regarding criminal law enforcement matters.
FOIA has six provisions that federal authorities can use to withhold public disclosure of records or information complied for law enforcement purposes.
"In the short run, they are saying that they can withhold the (pastor's) name until the court process gets underway," said Wright, a former attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. "Once the case get filed in federal court, the records themselves are public records.
"Normally, you are talking about a few hours before that case gets started," Wright said. "I've never run into this."
A U.S. District Court violation notice or ticket was issued to the pastor by the FBI and was forwarded to the Central Violations Bureau of the U.S. Courts, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit. The bureau is in San Antonio.
Officials at the Central Violations Bureau can search for an individual's name who has been issued a violation notice or a ticket, said David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Violation notices are considered as misdemeanors under federal criminal law, Wright said.
Another roadblock for public disclosure of the pastor's identity is that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has cancelled what is described as its "misdemeanor ticket call" because of the coronavirus pandemic, Balaya said.
"There is currently no date set for when it will resume," Balaya said.
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