A Lynden man convicted of incapacitating the pilot of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter with a handheld spotlight was sentenced on August 4.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly sentenced Wayne Groen to two months in a federal detention center in Seattle, along with 120 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. Groen will also be under home confinement equipped with electronic monitoring equipment for 90 days after he is released from prison.
Groen was found guilty in May of one count of incapacitating an individual during the authorized operation of an aircraft and not guilty of one county of interfering with the authorized operation of an aircraft. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors recommended Groen be sentenced to 10 months in prison. Jeffrey Lustick, Groen’s attorney, requested one year of probation, 120 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine.
After Groen was convicted, Lustick filed a request for a new trial, citing a lack of evidence tying Groen to the location where the spotlight incident occurred.
Lustick also wrote in the new trial motion that Zilly’s order preventing Lustick from using testimony from Groen’s neighbors on the strained relations with the Border Patrol presented an incomplete picture of the incident to the jury. Zilly denied Lustick’s motion for a new trial.
According to court documents, Groen walked out of his house on H Street Road east of Blaine at about 9:30 p.m. on September 22, 2010 and shined a high-powered flashlight toward a CBP helicopter that had woken him up. The helicopter’s crew 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, 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. 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.
In an interview on KGMI 790 AM, Lustick said this case has done little to quell the concerns of those in Whatcom County who live close to the U.S./Canadian border. He said he is in favor of establishing a citizen’s oversight committee for the Border Patrol so complaints about the organization’s personnel or actions can be handled by an independent entity.