Lawyer arrested for using own earphones to listen to in-flight movie

November 10, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- What is this, "The Twilight Zone"?

A lawyer on an airplane is watching the in-flight movie about a lawyer who gets caught in an ominous legal web, and he finds himself caught in an ominous legal web because he's watching the movie.

The movie aboard the United Airlines flight early yesterday morning was "Presumed Innocent," in which Harrison Ford is accused of murder. The passenger was tax attorney Steve Sun, 34, who got the cuffs slapped on him for petty theft for using his own earphones to listen to the soundtrack of the movie without paying the $4 headphone rental.

"The airport police told me this is the stupidest arrest they had to make," Mr. Sun said. "Actually, they used more colorful language than that."

And Alan B. Wayne, a local United official, said, "It's always interesting that these people are lawyers."

In the small hours of yesterday morning, aboard a not-too-crowded flight, Mr. Sun was flying home to Los Angeles from his grandfather's funeral. For $4, the flight attendant said, passengers could rent headphones to listen to "Presumed Innocent."

Mr. Sun had his own headphones. He happened to find these in an airport trash can years ago, but you can buy them in stores, hesays, and he's used them often before, with no problem.

Just as things start to come undone on film for Mr. Ford's character, a flight attendant tapped Mr. Sun on the shoulder. He could not use those headphones without paying, she said.

Now, Mr. Sun was admittedly a little cranky from a red-eye flight that left Washington an hour late. If the $4 was to rent a headset, he already had his own, right?

"I know what you can and can't do on an airplane," he said. "I know you can't cause a scene or you're in big trouble. I thought if you have your own headset, why do you have to pay to get their headset?"

As he recounts the story, the flight attendant said Mr. Sun should either stop listening or pay the $4. He said no. She relayed the captain's message: "If you don't stop watching the movie, they'll have to call security when you land."

"I said OK," Mr. Sun said.

He kept watching the movie, he said: "I said to pass the message on to the captain that I'm a lawyer and if anything happened on the ground, I would file a suit."

Just after midnight, "We got off the plane, and there was the airport police. I actually went up to them and said, 'I did it. I'm the culprit.' "

They said they would have to take him to the station for theft. "I said theft of what? They said the sound of the movie. I kind of laughed and said, 'You're kidding.' "

Airport Police Capt. John Bangs said his officers carried out the captain's "private person" arrest. They handcuffed Mr. Sun and took him to the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. After three hours, he was let go without being booked, and the case was referred to the city attorney.

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