DENVER — The 20-year-old man accused of assaulting a flight attendant last week, forcing the plane to divert to Denver, is claiming he suffers from psychological damage stemming from a skull injury from an assault last year, according to an affidavit obtained by Denver7 Monday.
Brian Hsu, of Irvine, California, was charged by criminal complaint with interference with a flight crew and assault within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. He made his first appearance in US District Court in California Monday and was released on a $10,000 bond.
Hsu was on American Airlines Flight 976, which took off from New York and was scheduled to land in Santa Ana, California. According to details obtained by ABC News from a source familiar with the investigation, at some point in the flight, the attendant accidentally bumped the first class passenger earlier in the flight and apologized. Later on, Hsu walked to the galley area, punched the attendant twice and returned to his seat, the source said.
In the affidavit released Monday, Hsu told agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was returning home to California from New York after receiving brain surgery in Rhode Island for a skull injury he sustained from a 2020 assault in New York. Hsu told investigators that he has psychological damage from the initial injury.
The suspect claims in the affidavit that the flight attendant became aggressive after he accidentally bumped the attendant when he was at the lavatory. He describes the flight attendant as coming after him.
But in the complaint, the victim denied these claims and said Hsu was acting strange when he came in the mid-galley to wait to use the lavatory.
The attendant said she was in the galley when Hsu walked in. She said she felt Hsu strike her head, and when she turned around, the victim said the suspect did not apologize for striking her, but instead stated he needed to use the restroom, the affidavit said.
After this incident, the flight attendant told Hsu to return to his seat and wait to use the lavatory there. But, according to the victim in the affidavit, Hsu instead raised his arms as though he were going to stretch and allegedly struck the attendant in the head. The attendant said Hsu then charged at her, flailing his arms, and allegedly struck her in the face with his right closed fist, the complaint read.
Hsu eventually returned to his seat, where he was restrained using duct tape, according to the affidavit. The flight attendant was transported to the hospital when the plane landed in Denver. Doctors told the victim that she had sustained a concussion and a possible nose fracture.
Hsu's mother told the FBI that her son has behavioral issues stemming from the initial injury. She said he does not want anyone to touch his head for fear it would cause serious injury or death.
She claims in the affidavit that her son was trying to protect his head after he was allegedly attacked by the flight attendant after Hsu accidentally struck the victim in the galley. Hsu claims the initial skull injury has made it impossible for him to make a fist, according to the affidavit.
The suspect is due to appear in federal court in Denver on Nov. 15.
Following the incident, American Airlines issued a statement where it said it was "outraged" by the reports of what happened.
"Acts of violence against our team members are not tolerated by American Airlines," the statement reads.
Hsu will not be allowed to travel with the airline in the future, American Airlines said. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation needs to implement a national No-Fly list that encompasses all airlines.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 24,000 American Airlines flight attendants released the following statement Monday:
"Anyone who physically assaults a flight attendant or customer service ground agent should be held accountable for their actions. APFA will continue to collaborate with other flight attendant and customer service agent unions, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to ensure these offenders are prosecuted to the full extent of the law with appropriate fines, criminal penalties and applicable flying bans.”
The incident comes amid a spike in unruly passengers, with thousands of reports filed to the FAA in 2021.
DIA has seen its own issues this year, with one passenger charged for biting two TSA agents, another accused of attacking a Southwest Airlines employee inside the concourse train and another arrested and federally charged after he allegedly refused to wear a mask and urinated in his seat.
The TSA recently rebooted its flight attendant self-defense programs to help train for responding to unruly passengers.