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US: Jurors find spotlight misuser guilty on one charge, not guilty on another

Jurors deliberated for a day in a case where a man aimed a spotlight at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter on September 22 2010. The pilots, who were wearing night-vision goggles, were temporarily blinded by the spotlight. The co-pilot had to remove his goggles and direct the pilot, who was not able to remove his goggles while still piloting the aircraft.

On April 28 2011 the jury found Wayne P. Groen, 42, guilty of incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft. The jury found him not guilty of interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft. Sentencing was set for August 4 2011.

Groen lives near Lynden, Washington about 1/2 mile south of the U.S.-Canada border. According to the Seattle Times, Groen said he aimed the spotlight at the Border Protection helicopter because he was “curious” about their activities, bothered by the noise, and “wanted to alert the pilots as to how close they were to his home.”

Groen lives on H Street Road, which parallels the U.S.-Canada border

The Bellingham Herald reports that some of Groen’s neighbors have been annoyed by Border Protection activities, such as frequent low-level helicopter flights and vehicles traveling through their yards and fields. They “have been tempted” to spotlight helicopters, and felt that threat of a long prison term (up to 40 years) for Groen was excessive. One man quoted by the paper said he was in an old barn at night when a helicopter hovered overhead and the metal roof began to rattle and shake: “Had I had a good flashlight I would have shined it up at that black object to see what it was.”

From the Seattle Times and the Bellingham Herald. An account of the opening day of the trial, entitled “Light v. helicopter -- who felt threatened most?” can be read after registering at the Lynden Tribune; a cached version is available at Google.

UPDATE August 4 2011: Wayne Groen was sentenced to two months in prison, 90 days of home detention, 120 hours of community service, three years of community supervision, and a $5,000 fine for incapacitating an individual during the authorized operation of an aircraft. Groen could have received up to 20 years in prison. The prosecution recommended 10 months; the defense wanted no prison time, one year of probation, 120 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. From The News Tribune