BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge Wednesday ordered a Florida man charged with threatening passengers on a jetliner to be detained until at least Monday so he can undergo a competency exam.
Derek Stansberry, 27, of Riverview, Fla., appeared in U.S. District Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk about 24 hours after he allegedly caused a Paris-to-Atlanta flight to be diverted to Bangor International Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
The 235 passengers and 13 crew members aboard the Airbus A330 Flight 273 landed safely in Bangor. No one was injured.
Stansberry aroused attention with a note claiming he had a fake passport before telling federal air marshals that he had dynamite in his boots and in his laptop computer, the FBI said in the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
Passengers reported that seat cushions, pillows and blankets were taken to the back of the plane, where federal air marshals erected a bunker of sorts around the boots and laptop “to dampen the effects of any potential explosion,” the affidavit said.
After the plane landed, the Bangor Police Department bomb squad searched it and checked luggage with bomb detecting dogs and explosives ordnance detection devices, but no explosives were found, the affidavit said.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that preliminary tests indicated traces of explosives on Stansberry’s boots and his checked luggage.
The affidavit does not mention any trace of explosives.
The newspaper reported that Stansberry told law enforcement officials he had no idea how trace chemicals of explosives would get onto his boots or bags.
Stansberry is charged with interfering with a flight crew and making false statements and threats.
Dressed in a black dress shirt and tan cargo pants, Stansberry stood almost at attention before Kravchuk on Wednesday. He looked tired and in need of a shave as he calmly answered, “Yes, ma’am,” to each of the judge’s questions about whether he understood the charges and the proceeding.
Federal Public Defender Virginia Villa told the judge that Stansberry was unable to complete a financial declaration. Kravchuk uses that document to determine whether a defendant qualifies for a court-appointed attorney or has sufficient income or property to hire his or her own attorney.
Investigators hinted that there might be an issue with Stansberry’s competency. During his interview with investigators, he “spoke in military jargon and had trouble keeping the events in a chronological order,” Bangor-based FBI Special Agent James McCarty said in the affidavit.
The judge tentatively scheduled a hearing to consider the results of Stansberry’s competency exam for 10 a.m. Monday in federal court in Bangor. The hearing could be continued to a later date if the results of the exam have not been submitted to the court.
Stansberry was being held Wednesday evening at the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor pending the outcome of the competency exam.
He told the FBI that fellow passengers aboard Flight 273 were talking about him, ridiculing him and using interrogation techniques on him and suggested that he concocted the dynamite story to divert attention from the fact that he held “classified information,” according to the affidavit.
In the note Stansberry allegedly passed to a flight attendant, he said he had been in Ouaga illegally. Ouaga most likely is short for Ouagadougou, pronounced wa-ga-DU-gu, the capital of Burkina Faso. The West Africa nation also is known by its short-form name Burkina.
Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta, Burkina is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north, Niger to the east, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Côte d’Ivoire to the southwest.
It could not be determined Wednesday night if Stansberry had been in the African nation recently or why he might have been there.
Stansberry used some abbreviations in the note which were not explained in court documents.
Stansberry also told an FBI agent that he had taken the sedative Ambien and told an air marshal that he had taken eight of the pills.
The U.S. Air Force described Stansberry as a former intelligence specialist who served four years, ending his Air Force career as a senior airman in 2009 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Stansberry’s father, Richard Stansberry, described his son Tuesday as “squeaky clean” and said the episode made no sense. He couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
“Today’s charges should serve as a reminder that the federal government will not tolerate this activity,” U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby said Wednesday in a news release. “This case also highlights the extensive resources required to address threats that prove to be false — resources that could be better utilized addressing real threats.”
Silsby has asked that Stansberry be held without bail until his case is concluded. A detention hearing is expected to be scheduled after his competency is determined.
If convicted, Stansberry faces up to 20 years in prison on the interference charge and up to five years in prison on the charge of making false statements and threats. He could be fined up to $250,000 on each count.
In addition, Stansberry could be ordered to reimburse Delta Air Lines for the cost of the flight diversion and the expense of putting the passengers and crew up overnight in Bangor motels.
The passengers and crew from the diverted flight finally departed Bangor at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Flight 273 was the first of two flight diversions in a 24-hour span. On Wednesday, a Continental Express flight from Houston to the Washington area was diverted to North Carolina after a threatening message was written on a bathroom mirror, the Transportation Security Administration said.
BDN writer Judy Harrison and Associated Press writer Clarke Canfield contributed to this report.
During the flight, Derek Stansberry allegedly passed a flight attendant a note stating:
“I am not an American citizen. I was in Ouaga illegally
“My passports and identity are fake
“I bought that bag on [eBay] and have no association with the United States
“I will take whatever COA the US wants
“I will leave my wallet & passport on this aircraft
“Please let my family know the truth — I f——- up & will let the HN preside over prosecutions; and that I love them.”
Source: Affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor in U.S. vs. Derek Stansberry