A troubled Oakland teen was sentenced Thursday to five years of probation, including six months of community confinement at a halfway house, for aiming a laser at a California Highway Patrol helicopter last summer, which he captured on a selfie video.
He could have faced a maximum of five years in prison.
Christian Palomino, now 19, had already pleaded guilty to aiming the laser at the chopper on June 7, 2014. Federal court documents show that he took video on his phone, and can be heard yelling at the helicopter pilot, "Look at this laser!"
In the background of Palomino's self-shot video, court records show a woman admonishing him in the background: “Don’t do that! You know you could blind . . . You[’re] going to go to jail if you do that. Don’t do that!”
Palomino responded with expletives and racist comments, using the F- and the N-words in disrespect to the officers, records show. Prosecutors detailed Palomino's criminal history, and provided photos taken off his phone showing him holding guns, doing drugs and affiliating with gangs.
Despite what happened, federal public defenders Steven Kalar and Angela Hansen, urged for for a mid-range punishment in a 63-page document, offering insight into their client's troubled background.
"Mr. Palomino is not the rare youthful offender whose crime reflectsirreparable corruption," the public defenders wrote. " He is “another knucklehead [who] aimed a laser pointer at a passing
[aircraft] just for the fun of it.”
His lawyers also explained to the court that Palomino was taken from his parent's home when he was 16, and that he suffers from ADHD, depression and drug addiction. He didn't learn English until he was in third grade, the defense attorneys said, and he attnded six different elementary schools.
Palomino "bitterly regrets that day," his attorneys wrote. "He is 'ashamed' of what he did."
At the time of the lasing incident, the CHP helicopter was helping Oakland police to find a domestic violence suspect at the intersection of Bancroft and Seminary avenues. At some point, the helicopter's flight officer noticed two bright green flashes coming from the ground below, according to the indictment.
The flight officer used the helicopter camera to spot two suspects as the possible source and enlisted CHP officers in a patrol car to follow them. The officers allegedly found a green laser pen in Palomino's pocket, according to the complaint.
The sentence was handed down late Thursday by U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton, who also imposed conditions of probation requiring Palomino to refrain from possessing a laser pointer and to perform 200 hours of community service, including educating people about the consequences of aiming laser pointers at aircrafts.
Palomino was ordered to self-surrender to the halfway house on Jan. 4, 2016.
Knowingly pointing a laser at an aircraft was made into a specific federal crime in 2012 in response to a growing number of such incidents, in which pilots can be distracted or temporarily blinded.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian C. Lewis prosecuted this case with Janice Pagsanjan and Melissa Dorton, and the legwork of the FBI and the CHP.