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Crime & Courts

Anchorage man charged with sexually assaulting passenger on Alaska Airlines flight

An Alaska man was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a woman on a flight from Anchorage to Seattle, federal prosecutors said on Thursday.

Nicholas Matthew Stevens, 37, of Anchorage, was arrested Wednesday, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, where the charges were filed. Stevens is being charged with one count of abusive sexual contact, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years, federal prosecutors said.

Court documents allege that on March 8, Stevens sexually assaulted a woman during a flight from Anchorage to Seattle. He is one of two men who were arrested this week and charged with sexual assault on flights headed to Seattle, federal prosecutors said in a written statement.

Stevens had been assigned an aisle seat, and a 22-year-old woman had been assigned the window seat in the same row. Between them, the middle seat was empty, court documents say.

After takeoff, Stevens began to repeatedly ask the woman if he could move to the middle seat and lean his head on her shoulder. She told him no, but Stevens continued to ask.

The woman said that she "eventually got tired of him asking and did not want to deal with him anymore, so she said, 'whatever,' " court documents said. He moved to the middle seat, leaning his head on her shoulder.

At one point, Stevens asked the woman to list off what she loved. After she replied, Stevens told her his own list, which was "something to the effect of, 'killing animals, killing more animals and going fishing so I can kill more animals,'" court documents say.

"Who would I have to kill to get a girl like you?" Stevens allegedly asked the woman. Then, Stevens began to joke about killing people. The woman grew scared of Stevens, court documents said.

Stevens' behavior escalated from giving the woman a high-five or "fist bump," to trying to hold her hand, court documents say. He'd try to interlock their arms, and the woman "would have to physically push him away and tell him to stop," court documents say.

At some point, with Stevens' head on the victim's shoulder, he grabbed the woman's left breast. She took his hand off and told him to stop, but he continued to touch both her breast and her thigh multiple times during the flight, court documents said.

Another passenger on the flight who was seated in the same row told investigators that she had seen Stevens touching the woman's breast. He was facing the other passenger with his eyes shut, but the passenger knew he wasn't asleep because he had a "smirk" and was moving his hands.

When the flight landed, the passenger watched as Stevens appeared not to move, and seemed to be preventing the victim from getting out of the row. The passenger said to the victim, "you need to get a connecting flight, right?" and Stevens replied "It's a hard life," court documents allege.

The passenger then waited for the victim to get around Stevens and out of the row. The passenger encouraged the victim to report what had happened.

A second passenger also noticed that the victim had been uncomfortable on the flight, and told the woman to report the incident.

The victim looked upset and was shaking when she contacted Port of Seattle police, according to court documents. Stevens was found at an airport gate, where the victim was able to "immediately recognize" him.

Stevens' initial court appearance is scheduled for Friday morning at Anchorage's federal courthouse, according to Chloe Martin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Alaska District. Stevens in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, Martin said.

The case will proceed out of Washington, Martin said. An Alaska Airlines spokesperson referred questions to the FBI.

The FBI says it has seen a jump in reports of sexual assault cases aboard airplanes, especially since the #MeToo movement began focusing attention on the topic in the past year, The Associated Press reported. The number of cases it opened rose from 38 in 2014 to 63 last year, according to agency statistics.

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