A Seattle jury convicted a Lynden man last week of incapacitating the pilot of a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) helicopter after pointing a high-powered flashlight at the aircraft during a nighttime flight.
On April 28, Wayne Groen was found guilty of one count of incapacitating an individual during the authorized operation of an aircraft but was found not guilty of interference with the authorized operation of an aircraft. Groen faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Sentencing for Groen, who is out on bond, was set for August 4.
At about 9:30 p.m. on September 22, 2010, Groen walked out of his house and shined a high-powered flashlight toward the helicopter, which was aiding Border Patrol agents in pursuing individuals accused of illegally crossing the border.
The helicopter was approximately 500 feet off the ground when the light struck the pilots, allegedly temporarily blinding both of them and forcing them to remove their night vision goggles and fly away from the scene.
The two pilots later returned to aid in the search for the light’s source and found Groen sitting in his truck near his home on H Street east of Blaine. In later interviews with federal agents, Groen admitted he shined the light at the helicopter and that it was probably a bad idea.
Groen was formally indicted in January, igniting a firestorm of criticism against the CBP, and Border Patrol agents specifically.
About a month after Groen’s indictment, the CBP hosted a public forum at Blaine high school where people had the chance to air their grievances with the Border Patrol, though the Groen case was not specifically discussed.
Groen’s defense, lead by attorney Jeffrey Lustick, claimed Groen was merely curious as to what the helicopter was doing and did not intend to harm the pilots.
The prosecution sought to frame the September 22 incident as one in a series of encounters Groen had with CPB agents, but Judge Thomas Zilly ruled both the defense and prosecution could only use testimony specific to the September encounter.