BAKERSFIELD, CA - A federal grand jury in Fresno returned the indictment of a Bakersfield man who was arrested for pointing a laser at an aircraft.
This is the first time such charges have been brought to this judicial district.
Brett Scott was arrested in January for shining a laser pointer at a Sheriff's Department helicopter. Prosecutors say Scott used two different lasers to strike aircrafts multiple times over a three-month period.
Scott is charged with four counts of aiming a laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff's helicopter and four counts of attempting to interfere with the safe operation of the aircraft.
Scott says he was using the laser to point out the stars to his daughter.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Scott's defense attorney says the penalty for the charge is extreme.
"The penalty in the federal system with respect to this particular crime, doesn't fit at all. And, I think that when you look historically as to why this particular crime was enacted, it was enacted because of folks like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and folks that have these laser-guided missiles, things of that nature, where they didn't want folks pointing guided lasers up in the air, things of that nature. But, here you have teenagers doing this from time to time or other individuals who are unaware of what the law is," said David Torres, Scott's attorney.
According to the FBI, there were more than 3,400 reported aircraft laser strikes last year. Exposure to high-powered laser beams can cause permanent eye damage and blindness. The statute used to charge Scott is part of legislation that was signed into law by President Obama last year.
Scott is one of four individuals indicted on similar charges Thursday. The Kern County Laser Threat working group has worked with federal law enforcement and aviation employees to crack down on laser strikes.
Scott is scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on Monday. Torres says they will enter a plea of not guilty.