Newly released police documents claim that Dr David Dao, the passenger who was shown being dragged off a United Airlines flight on April 9 in widely shared videos, behaved violently toward the officers removing him. His lawyer dismissed this account as “utter nonsense.”
The phone videos taken by other passengers set off waves of criticism and multiple statements from the airline, each more apologetic than the last.
The police reports were released on Monday afternoon in response to a freedom of information request filed by The New York Times and other news organisations.
The releases included audio of the original call to the Chicago Department of Aviation police, personnel reports about the officers and an incident report that appeared to blame Dao for his own injuries.
His lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, has said that his client may need surgery after suffering a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, which were knocked out.
The incident caused a furor around the world as video recorded by fellow passengers showed airport security officers yanking Dao from his seat aboard the flight.
The incident report details the attempt of an officer identified as James Long to remove Dao. The officer, it says, “attempted to assist the subject off his seat with two hands, but the subject started swinging his arms up and down fast and violently.”
After Long pulled Dao from his seat, the report continues, “the subject then started flailing his arms and started to fight with Officer Long. Due to this incident, the subject was able to knock Officer Long’s right hand off the subject’s arm.”
“Consequentially, the subject fell and hit his mouth on the armrest across from him,” the report adds, noting Dao’s injury.
Demetrio dismissed the report out of hand. “It’s utter nonsense,” he said in a statement. “Consider the source.”
In a memo dated April 17 that was also released on Monday, the department instructed its security officers to review its policy for the use of force, emphasising the directive that “the safety of innocent persons and officers is of paramount importance.” All four officers involved in Dao’s removal have been placed on administrative leave.
The release included personnel files for all of the officers involved, including Long, Officer Steven Smith, Officer Mauricio Rodriguez Jr. and Sgt. John Moore, as well as the notice given that each was being put on administrative leave. Long and Moore had each been disciplined for minor, non-violent incidents in the past.
The department also released audio of the original call in which the airline asked for help. ‘Were they drinking?’
“Two passengers are refusing to get off the aircraft when instructed by the agent and also the supervisor,” an airline employee tells the police dispatcher. He could not give a description of the passengers.
“Any information on were they drinking, were they doing anything like that?” the dispatcher asks a little later in the recording.
“No, it’s something with an oversold and didn’t volunteer or something like that,” the United employee responds.
In fact, the flight was not oversold. United was attempting to make seats available for a flight crew that needed to be in Kentucky for flights the next morning. The airline tried to get volunteers, but when no one stepped forward four people were selected and told to leave. Two complied, but Dao refused, saying he had patients to see the next day.
Multiple passengers made videos of the physical confrontation that followed, in which Dao was dragged down the aisle by his arms. He was later seen returning to the flight with a bloodied mouth in a state of confusion. He was eventually removed in a stretcher.
Ginger Evans, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, said on Tuesday that she was unhappy that the agency’s police officers were made to remove Dao, suggesting that it was not an appropriate task for the officers.
United has failed to meet several deadlines imposed by Washington lawmakers to answer questions about the matter. ‘Disappointed and troubled’
Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire and a member of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee, said in a statement on Tuesday that she was “disappointed and troubled” by the lack of response to a letter asking for a more detailed account of what happened on April 9, as well as a description of United’s policies regarding the removal of passengers with boarding passes who have already been seated.
“No passenger should ever experience the mistreatment that we all saw on that United flight,” she said in the statement, pledging to introduce legislation later in the week that would prevent such treatment.
That statement followed one released on Friday by the Senate commerce committee, which also chastened the airline, and the Chicago Department of Aviation, for missing its deadline on providing information about the incident.
United responded to a request for comment on Tuesday, saying that it had asked for a “brief extension” from the lawmakers “in order to ensure accuracy and thoroughness.”
The airline had previously said that it would release the results of an internal review, as well as any proposed reforms, by the end of the month.
The New York Times