ATLANTA — An Atlanta man was arrested Sunday and charged with pointing a laser at a police helicopter that was flying past his apartment.
The two officers aboard, who serve with APD’s Phoenix Air Unit, were at risk of losing their eyesight, mid-flight, and losing control of the helicopter.
And police video shows that the man wasn’t just pointing a laser at the officers and their helicopter, he was aiming his handgun at them, using his laser sight that was attached to the weapon.
All of this happened about 1:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
Officers Eric Lightkep and William Treadwell, who were aboard, were supporting officers on the ground, assisting them with crowd control near Mercedes Benz Stadium in northwest Atlanta.
The video from their helicopter shows a bright, blinding, green laser from the ground at a nearby apartment complex suddenly beaming into the cockpit.
Officer Treadwell called for assistance.
“We’re getting hit with a laser,” he said on his radio, “I was just going to see if we can get somebody out here...”
The officers were able to aim their helicopter's high-definition video camera at the source of the laser, a man standing just outside his apartment door.
“It’s a dangerous situation for us,” Treadwell said on the radio, “he’s just continually hitting me in the face with his laser...”
“It hits you in the face,” Treadwell told 11Alive Tuesday evening. “You kind of have to avert your eyes and lose vision even for just a couple of seconds while up there. It can definitely be dangerous. And when that laser hits the windscreen, it illuminates everything in the cockpit green, which can make it hard for the pilot or anybody to see the instruments and gauges. And in the event that we have some kind of emergency, it's just that extra level of danger.”
Treadwell was the tactical flight officer on board that morning, working with Lightkep, who was the pilot.
And they said that a few times a year, someone on the ground points a laser at them as they are flying above.
“There's no other reason to shine a laser at an aircraft other than to distract the pilot and make it unsafe for him,” Officer Lightkep said Tuesday. “So, I think they know what they're doing.... First of all, it's a distraction while trying to fly. So visually it’s a distraction, but it can become a real safety issue. And second of all, a lot of times it takes us off of our primary mission while we're up in the first place. So, we're not usually just out looking for people with lasers. When we have a laser strike, sometimes we have to break off our call and handle that.”
Sunday morning, within minutes, Lightkep and Treadwell were able to direct officers on the ground to the man’s apartment.
And when the officers detained him, that’s when they discovered that the laser he was using was a laser sight for his handgun. Police said he was actually aiming his handgun at the APD helicopter.
“Not only was it a laser,” Lightkep said, “he could have had his finger on the trigger and then, you know, shot some rounds in our direction. So that's very alarming.”
Tuesday night, Atlanta police released the identity of the man arrested—Jamal Bard—and listed the charges against him, which include:
- Two counts of Aggravated Assault on a Peace Officer
- Laser Use Against an Aircraft
- Laser Use Against Law Enforcement Officer
“We do take it seriously and you will be held accountable if we see you doing it,” Treadwell said. “We're going to catch you. We have cameras that are very advanced. We can see where exactly it’s coming from. And the state government as well as the federal government, they don't take it lightly and it's a federal as well as a state charge.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, in the U.S in 2021 there were 9,723 laser strikes against aircraft, which is an average of 26 per day--a record high number, and 30% more than in 2020 when there were 6,852.