The man accused of a violent outburst on a Boston-bound flight on Sunday appeared in federal court on Thursday to face a charge of interfering with flight operations using a dangerous weapon.
Federal prosecutors allege that Francisco Severo Torres, 33, started an incoherent rant about 45 minutes before the United Airlines flight landed at Logan International Airport on Sunday. He allegedly tried to open one of the plane's emergency exits and, later, stab a flight attendant with a broken spoon.
At his appearance in federal court in Boston, the Leominster, Massachusetts, resident was handcuffed to a table. After a judge ordered he undergo a mental health evaluation, to be followed by a competency hearing, Torres was led out of court.
"I am still Balthazar, renamed by God," he said as he left.
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Earlier in the hearing, though Judge Judith Dein urged him not to give a statement, Torres made one, telling her that "Father, son and the holy spirit told me to speak."
Torres has a history of mental health issues, including making threats to his mother, prosecutor Elianna Nuzum said in court, asking for the mental health evaluation. He also used similar rhetoric to what passengers heard at a Leominster barber shop a few weeks before the flight, prompting police to respond.
According to a police report, Torres went into the barbershop pretending to have a weapon in his pocket and saying he was "half angel and half devil."
Prosecutors also said Thursday that Torres repeatedly punched a guard in the face at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island after his arrest this week.
Torres' attorney, Joshua Hanye, objected to the government's request that Torres receive medication and said he felt it was unnecessary to have a competency hearing.
During the incident, other passengers on board were able to tackle Torres to the floor, authorities said, and he was arrested when the plane landed in Boston.
The hearing came one day after the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Billy Nolan, testified on Capital Hill, which came on the heels of a number of incidents involving air travel.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asked Nolan what would have happened if the suspect had actually opened the door mid-flight.
“Let me just say sir that on a pressurized flight, it’s a plug type door, so it’s over-pressurized so he would not have been able to open the door mid-flight," Nolan said.
Aviation officials said that in 2022, there were more than 2,300 reports of unruly passengers. A spokesman for TSA in New England says it continues to be a problem.
"Just last night there were eight incidents that happened so we do get reports and it's unfortunate," Dan Velez said. "One is too many but we do the best we can to make sure those individuals who are creating those disturbances on aircrafts don’t have dangerous weapons."