DENVER (CBS4) – A man has been arrested by the FBI on charges that he pointed a laser at Denver Police Department’s helicopter. Such an action could blind a pilot.
Nathan James Finneman, 26, of Denver turned himself in Thursday morning after being identified. He is said to have pointed the laser at the police helicopter while it was in operation three different times in April 2013.
Finneman told CBS4 he didn’t realize how dangerous it could be.
When asked if he realized his actions could blind a pilot, Finneman replied, “I had no idea and even as dim as the laser pointer was it blew me away. It was an $8 laser pointer you could get at any store.”
The Denver police helicopter, which is called Air1, has a variety of equipment to spot activity on the ground. That includes infrared and other forms of night vision, and it has the capability to zoom in very tightly.
In this case authorities told CBS4 that Air1’s pilot was able to use that equipment to spot, pinpoint and even record where the laser was coming from which was Finneman’s home. That led to the identification of the suspect.
Finneman appeared before a judge in U.S. District Court in Denver located at 901 19th Street. He was released on $5,000 unsecured bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on July 22 at 10 a.m. for arraignment.
“It’s one of those moments I think I could have made a better decision,” said Finneman.
Finneman insisted he and his friends did not intend to harm with their toy, “I recommend to anybody even if it’s an $8 laser pen do not point it in the air.”
There have been several other incidents across the country in which a laser was pointed at a helicopter and a suspect was picked out on the ground by the helicopter’s technology.
“We are thankful that Air1 has the technology to identify persons committing this type crime, as it did in this case,” Denver Police Chief Robert White said in a prepared statement.
If convicted, Finneman could face up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney John Walsh stressed in prepared remarks that aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious offense.
“Pointing a laser at the pilot of a helicopter or airplane not only puts the pilot and passengers of the aircraft at risk, it exposes the public on the ground to the danger of an emergency landing or even a crash. What might seem like a harmless prank is far from it – laser blinding of pilots is a serious and dangerous crime that we will prosecute.”
According to Denver police, Air1 is the only police air support helicopter in the state.