LAX Suspect Ordered to Remain in Jail

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

A man who federal officials say arrived in Los Angeles on a flight from Japan wearing body armor and carrying an arsenal of dangerous items in his luggage was ordered Friday to remain jailed pending trial.

Yongda Huang Harris, 28, of Boston, is facing a federal charge of transporting hazardous materials. He was arrested Nov. 5 after landing at Los Angeles International Airport wearing a bullet-resistant vest, flame-retardant legging covers and knee pads beneath a trench coat, federal authorities said.

Sketch of Yongda Huang Harris in court. (Mona Edwards)

Harris, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent whose ultimate destination was Boston, was marked for a secondary inspection after customs officers observed his unusual outfit.

Harris — who appeared in court with a blue surgical mask over his nose and mouth because of what his attorney said was a throat infection — is expected back in court Oct. 23 for a preliminary hearing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul L. Abrams found that Harris was a “flight risk,” citing his history of foreign travel and foreign employment and no significant ties to the Los Angeles area.

During the court hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Mills urged the magistrate judge to find that there was a danger of Harris fleeing the country.

The federal prosecutor said evidence was found on Harris’ computer indicating a “strong interest in sexual violence” against girls.

Also found was information on how to commit certain types of crimes, including murder, information about date-rape drugs and a Word document showing Japanese school schedules, the federal prosecutor said.

The federal prosecutor noted that Harris has been living overseas for seven months and is “very comfortable living in other countries,” arguing that confiscation of his passport wouldn’t necessarily stop him from fleeing.

“We are alleging flight risk here,” Mills said. “We do believe he is a flight risk.”

Defense attorney Steven Seiden — who had asked that his client be released on bond and allowed to return to live with his mother in Boston — countered that Harris was “not of a mind to flee” and that the items found on the computer have “nothing to do with the charge he’s charged with.”

“He may delve into a fantasy world in his research and his interests … He may have interests that are not of the norm,” Seiden said, while noting that it did not mean his client was engaging in criminal conduct or would carry out “any type of harm to anyone.”

Harris had never been arrested before and was “timid” and “scared” because he had been a “victim of violence” during a mugging in Boston, according to his attorney.

In ruling that Harris should remain detained, the magistrate judge noted that the information found on Harris’ computer would likely mean that he would be unemployable as a teacher.

Outside court, Harris’ attorney pledged to “vigorously defend this man,” whom he described as a Boston University graduate who had most recently taught English to junior-high school students in Japan and previously worked as a laboratory technician. He was traveling back to Boston to attend his stepfather’s funeral when he was detained, Seiden said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Harris’ luggage contained a smoke grenade, a hatchet, knives, a gas mask, biohazard suits, handcuffs, leg irons, body bags, a device to repel dogs, three leather-coated billy clubs, a collapsible baton and a full-face respirator.

An affidavit prepared by federal agents in support of a criminal complaint states that when a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad conducted an X-ray examination of the smoke grenade, it showed the device fell under the United Nations’ explosives shipping classification, meaning it is prohibited on passenger aircraft.

Depending on the conditions when it is ignited, the smoke grenade could potentially fill the cabin of a commercial airplane with smoke or cause a fire, officials said.

The defense lawyer disputed the federal government’s contention that Harris had been wearing body armor, saying it was “clothing that was purchased in Asia by my client” and is “popular among young people in Asia.” He also disputed the federal government’s classification of the bags as “body bags,” instead describing it as a “giant duffel bag.”

Harris is charged in a federal criminal complaint with one count of transporting hazardous materials, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

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