Crime & Courts

‘High as a kite’ airline passenger pleads guilty to assault

Augustus James Duncan
Augustus James Duncan Mecklenburg County jail

Gus Duncan had just gotten the bad news from his girlfriend: She was breaking up with him and was seeing another man.

Duncan was headed to the Denver airport that day for a flight to Charlotte for Thanksgiving.

Once he got to the airport, he downed shots to drown his sorrows and had more Jack Daniels when he boarded American Airlines Flight 1704, according to court records. Duncan did so despite being on a prescription medication for anxiety, according to testimony at his guilty plea hearing in federal court in Charlotte on Wednesday.

At the time of his arrest, a fellow passenger accused Duncan of being “high as a kite” as he hit fellow passengers and twice broke free of handcuffs on the flight.

Duncan, 22, of Boulder, Colo., was given two years probation after pleading guilty to assault within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. The plea document describes the assault as a “petty offense.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler ordered Duncan not to fly during his probation. He must pay a $50 special assessment and reimburse a fellow passenger $33 – the co-pay for the passenger’s visit to a doctor. He also must continue any mental health or drug treatment since the Nov. 21 incident.

“On Gus’s behalf, he apologizes to American Airlines and his fellow passengers for what happened,” his lawyer, Ed Hinson of Charlotte, told the Observer on Thursday.

A fellow passenger said Duncan was already high when he boarded the flight, FBI Special Agent Shawnda Drummond said in an affidavit at the time of his arrest. Duncan told a passenger he’d had five shots at a bar before boarding the flight that left Denver at 4:01 p.m. and arrived at Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 9:10 p.m., Drummond said.

When Duncan ordered a triple shot of Jack Daniels on the flight, a flight attendant refused the request but gave him a double shot instead, according to the affidavit. Duncan then tossed ice at the man seated in front of him, before standing up and pressing the man’s head down, the affidavit said.

When Duncan released pressure on the man’s head, he elbowed the man in the head, according to the affidavit. The passenger heard his neck make a cracking noise, which a fellow passenger also heard, according to the affidavit.

A flight attendant was notified and recruited several people to surround Duncan as she handcuffed him. Duncan twice broke free of the cuffs before being handcuffed again, the affidavit said. Duncan then tried to flirt with the flight attendant, asking for her phone number and grabbing her leg, Drummond said in the affidavit.

Two other passengers said Duncan tried to give them Xanax pills during the flight. Xanax is used to treat anxiety disorders.

When officers boarded the plane, Duncan appeared to have passed out, the affidavit said. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center and later jailed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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