Texas man charged for midair meltdown challenges law, saying it was just rudeness

DALLAS — When does being a jerk rise to the level of becoming a felony when you’re 30,000 feet in the air?

A federal judge intends to decide the matter.

Justin Riley Brafford’s behavior in the sky while aboard a Southwest Airlines flight in October 2018 is the conduct in question. The 29-year-old Denton man flirted with a woman next to him, touching and “playing footsies” with her, according to an FBI complaint. When she rebuffed his advances and requested a new seat, a flight attendant scolded him.

Brafford, 29, didn’t take it well. He threw a profanity-laced tantrum in the attendant’s face for about 30 seconds and then sat down and kept quiet for the duration of the flight, according to court records.

The flight attendant, passengers and other crew members were intimidated by Brafford’s “belligerent manner,” federal authorities say, leading the pilot to divert the Dallas-bound flight to Albuquerque, where the FBI arrested him.

Brafford has remained behind bars since, unable to obtain release on bond. He’s charged with interfering with a flight crew, a felony.

While the FBI said in the complaint that Brafford also assaulted the woman by touching her, that charge was not included in the indictment.

But in legal filings, Brafford’s attorney says the government wants to punish him merely for “deviating from the socially acceptable norms of airline travel.”

John Van Butcher, his attorney, said his client didn’t make any threats and didn’t lay a finger on the flight attendant, who is physically larger, during the brief encounter. He is challenging the federal law, arguing that it’s vague and unconstitutional. Brafford has requested a bench trial, which is currently scheduled for the end of the month.

— Dallas Morning News

Minnesota is latest to charge R&B singer R. Kelly with sexual misconduct

MINNEAPOLIS — The criminal sex scandal surrounding R&B singer R. Kelly has spread to Minnesota, where he is charged with soliciting a minor for sexual purposes 18 years ago, the Hennepin County attorney’s office announced Monday.

It’s the latest charge against Kelly, 52, whose legal name is Robert Sylvester Kelly. He was indicted last month in New York on 18 federal counts including kidnapping, forced labor and sending child pornography across state lines, as well as obstruction of justice for making hush-money payments to victims. He has pleaded not guilty.

State charges out of Illinois accuse Kelly of sexual assault, and he faces multiple lawsuits from alleged victims. Kelly is currently in federal custody in New York state, and it is unclear if or when he will make a court appearance in Minnesota. He is due to appear again in court in Chicago in early September. He also has denied wrongdoing in the Illinois matters.

County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the felony counts of prostitution with an individual under 18, and another soliciting sex with a person under 18. He said the alleged incident occurred in July 2001 when the victim was attempting to get an autograph from Kelly during a promotional event at the City Center in downtown Minneapolis before a concert. Charges say he gave her his phone number and told her to call him. She called and was then directed to go to a Minneapolis hotel where she met with a member of his staff and was led to his suite.

“After some discussion she was offered $200 to take off her clothes and dance for him,” Freeman said. “After accepting the $200 she got naked and they proceeded to dance.” Freeman said sexual contact occurred, though it was not intercourse. Afterward, Freeman said, she was given VIP seating for a concert.

In a message posted to Twitter, Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, said “New charges @Rkelly give me a break. This is beyond absurd.”

—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Huge study explores genetics of PTSD in more than 165,000 US veterans

SAN DIEGO — A new genetic study uses information from an unprecedented number of U.S. veterans to probe a particularly vexing question: Why does post-traumatic stress disorder affect some, but not others?

It is a particularly urgent question given that suicide rates are higher among veterans suffering from PTSD, which is estimated to affect between 11% and 20% of those who served in the military.

Recently published in the journal Nature Science by collaborating investigators at the University of California, San Diego and Yale University, the study is the first PTSD analysis to draw upon genetic information collected by the Million Veteran Program. Created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the voluntary initiative seeks to create a medical database large enough that researchers can see patterns of genetic variation capable of providing indispensable road maps for the future treatment of many diseases.

Though the program does not yet have its full sampling of 1 million records available, there is already enough data in place to allow the research team to study more than 165,000 veterans. Using sophisticated computer modeling techniques, they were able to compare the genomes of those who experienced a key symptom of post-traumatic stress to those who did not.

Common genetic differences were observed at eight different DNA locations among veterans who reported “re-experiencing” a PTSD symptom associated with nightmares and flashbacks that are sometimes triggered by events similar to those that were present when trauma first occurred.

Differences at three different chromosome locations were deemed to be most statistically significant and are thought to potentially affect the body’s hormone response to stress and, perhaps, to the function or structure of certain types of neurons in the brain.

Though mutations in these genes have previously been suspected to have something to do with PTSD susceptibility, science is increasingly finding it necessary to compare the genetic fingerprints of many, many real people in order to tease out which changes, among many possibilities, drive complex disorders such as PTSD.

Dr. Murray B. Stein, a UC San Diego psychiatry and family medicine professor who led the study with Dr. Joel Gelernter, a professor of genetics and neuroscience at Yale, was quick to note that this type of association study offers suggestions rather than clear answers. But correlating genetic information on such a large scale, he said, provides the kind of signal in the noise that can help guide deeper investigations in the future.

— S.D. Union-Tribune

Puerto Rico’s leadership crisis heads to island’s Supreme Court

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The next battle in the heated war over Puerto Rico’s leadership will be waged in the U.S. territory’s Supreme Court.

The island’s high court announced that it will begin holding hearings Tuesday on whether Pedro Pierluisi is Puerto Rico’s legitimate governor. But even if the court rules in Pierluisi’s favor, a combative Senate could make his life complicated.

In a fiery speech Monday, Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of the Puerto Rican Senate, reiterated his view that Pierluisi is an illegitimate leader because he was never confirmed as the island’s secretary of state — and therefore never should have been in the line of succession when Gov. Ricardo Rosello stepped down last week.

“The Senate never gave its consent to Pierluisi, his swearing in was invalid, and he’s acting illegally as the governor,” Rivera Schatz said. “It’s my duty to take him to court, and it’s my duty to protect the Senate, the constitution and the people of Puerto Rico.”

The rebuke was even more scathing because Rivera Schatz and Pierluisi are members of the same ruling New Progressive Party, or PNP.

Eduardo Bahtia, the head of the opposition Popular Democratic Party, said the entire country was being held hostage by the power struggle taking place inside the PNP.

“This is the biggest political crisis in the history of Puerto Rico,” he said. “And it’s a manufactured crisis.”

Pierluisi came to power Friday after former Gov. Rossello resigned amid corruption scandals and the outrage that erupted after it was revealed that he used misogynistic and homophobic language in a private chat group with 11 of his advisers and confidants.

— Miami Herald

India revokes Kashmir’s limited autonomy, raising tension in a long-turbulent region

NEW DELHI — Tension built for 10 days in a Himalayan valley that is as scenic as it is turbulent.

In rugged Kashmir, India sent in thousands more troops without an official explanation. Authorities canceled a famed Hindu pilgrimage. Police trolled lakes and guesthouses to evacuate tourists. Schools were closed, phone and internet connections shut down and residents sheltered in their homes.

Then, on Monday, with most Kashmiris unable to follow the news, the Indian government announced a historic constitutional change, revoking the limited autonomy held for decades by its only Muslim-majority territory.

The controversial move to withdraw Kashmir’s special legal status fulfills a longstanding goal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party to yoke the disputed northern territory more closely to the rest of India.

It also appears certain to heighten tensions with rival Pakistan — which also claims Kashmir — and trigger a violent backlash among separatist insurgents and civilians bitterly opposed to Indian rule.

— Los Angeles Times