Flight attendant Steven Slater's mental health will be evaluated by a psychologist whose analysis will factor into plea deal negotiations for the Aug. 9 airport commotion that started a media uproar and mobilized Internet fans to label Slater a folk hero.
The former JetBlue flight attendant made a brief appearance in court today for allegedly cursing at a passenger, deploying the emergency exit chute, sliding down the chute and then running away after a JetBlue flight landed in New York City from Pittsburgh.
Slater remained silent as he walked past reporters shouting questions on his way in and out of court today. His case was adjourned until Oct. 19 while his lawyers and the Queens County District Attorney in New York negotiate a plea deal.
Slater, 38, is charged with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and criminal trespass for the incident.
If convicted, Slater faces up to seven years in prison.
"We've had some discussions with the D.A., we hope to continue those discussions to favorably resolve this matter for Mr. Slater," defense attorney Daniel J. Horowitz said outside the courthouse.
Horwitz said his client was taking the matter very seriously and said he had been under tremendous pressure because of his terminally ill mother, recently deceased father and health problems of his own, according to the Associated Press.
He said he was hoping prosecutors would take into account Slater's "long-standing and well-regarded reputation in the industry."
Horwitz said he hopes they can come to an agreement that favorably resolves the case, but he wouldn't specify what he was looking for.
Queens D.A. Richard Brown confirmed in a statement that Slater is being evaluated as part of the plea deal negotiations "for participation in an alternative-sentencing program to address possible mental health, stress related, alcohol abuse and other issues."
Brown said the evaluation was at Slater's request.
Brown told reporters Slater's sentence "could be community service, it could be medical or a stress-related intervention, it could be anything of that nature."
Although Slater's ultimate sentencing may not include jail time, the D.A. stressed the importance of the matter and the consequences of Slater's actions.
"I've been very much troubled by the fact that both the defendant and the media have been trivializing that which occurred," he said. "Deploying an emergency escape chute on an aircraft filled with passengers is no laughing matter."
Online Support for Steven Slater Continues
The emergency-exit slide that Slater deployed onto the runway opened up with a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch and could have injured or killed any workers on the ground below the plane.
"The estimated cost of replacing the chute is, I am told, $25,000," Brown said.
Slater is no longer an employee of JetBlue Airways. He left his job Wednesday after previously being placed on suspension for the August incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
"Mr. Slater wants to get on with his life, and that's why he resigned from his job voluntarily," Horowitz said.
JetBlue confirmed Slater's departure but declined to offer any details.
Gary Baumgardner started the fund and has, he said, received $1,500 in online donations.
"I'm a pilot myself and I was working with my crew when we heard about this," Baumgardner said, adding that he expected more money to accumulate via mailed checks.