A man believed to have breached security to bid his girlfriend goodbye, triggering the shutdown of a busy Newark Airport terminal that led to snarled flights worldwide, was arrested in New Jersey and faces a trespassing charge and a fine of up to $500, punishment a senator says should be much harsher.
Haisong Jiang, 28, of Piscataway was taken into custody at 7:30 p.m. Friday at his home, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. He was questioned at the airport by Port Authority police, who arrested him, and released shortly after midnight.
The Port Authority said in a statement that Jiang will being charged with defiant trespass, and that the charge was determined in coordination with the Essex County prosecutor and federal officials, though it’s not a federal charge. A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration referred all questions to the Port Authority.
Jiang is due to appear in Newark municipal court next week, according to Paul Loriquet of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
It was not immediately clear whether Jiang has retained a lawyer.
Jiang, who is Chinese, is a doctoral student in a joint molecular biosciences program at Rutgers University, one of his roommates said early Saturday. He said Jiang was born in Jiangxi, China, and has been in the U.S. since 2004.
Jiang’s roommate, who would only identify himself as Hui, said Jiang took his girlfriend to the airport Sunday. He said Jiang’s girlfriend was a recent Rutgers graduate who lives in Los Angeles and was visiting for the holidays.
He said Jiang hadn’t mentioned anything to his roommates about what happened at the airport and they were surprised by the arrest. He said he felt Jiang didn’t think what he had done was a serious matter.
Hui said the roommates were aware of the video of the security breach but didn’t pay much attention.
Jiang lives in two-story home on a residential street of tidy, single-family homes near the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. His roommate said Chinese graduate students from Rutgers lived in the house.
“From every indication I’ve seen, everybody in there is good people,” said Gene Wells, who lives next door to Jiang. “I’ve never had a problem with them.”
Hui said he arrived home about 7 p.m. Friday and two officers were waiting outside. He called Jiang, who he said was at the gym, and told him the officers were waiting. Jiang returned home, spoke to the officers and was arrested.
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who was briefed on the arrest, said authorities found Jiang with “sheer, hard police work” of sifting through records and following leads. But he expressed anger that Jiang faces a charge he described as a “slap on the wrist” and will only be given a fine of about $500.
“This was a terrible deed in its outcome — it wasn’t some prank that didn’t do any harm — it did a lot of harm because it sent out an alert that people can get away with something like this,” Lautenberg said.
The senator called Jiang’s actions “premeditated” and said even though the his actions were relatively benign, “what he did was a terrible injustice” to the thousands of people who were inconvenienced.
Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, had pressed for surveillance video of the security breach to be publicly released. He said he believes Newark airport is safe but will pursue airport security issues in upcoming Congressional hearings.
The breach led the TSA to shut down one of Newark Liberty International’s three terminals for six hours Sunday, stranding thousands of passengers and contributing to long delays.
A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Friday that the Transportation Security Administration worker who allegedly left his post is Ruben Hernandez of Newark. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is in progress.
TSA employees are not unionized, but the American Federation of Government Employees is representing him, said union spokesman Derrick Thomas. The union declined to publicly identify him. The TSA has said the guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday.
The officer, who has been with the agency for 2 1/2 years, previously received a commendation for job performance, Thomas said.
“He’s been rated a model employee,” he said. “We intend to fully represent him to make sure this whole investigation is handled correctly and that he’s not made a scapegoat for all that’s been going wrong with security at the airports.”
The union is reviewing reports that the officer was called from his post to investigate a disturbance in the seconds before the security breach, Thomas said.
On a surveillance video released Thursday by the TSA and the Port Authority, the guard is seen sitting at a security podium in an exit lane as passengers stream past on their way out of the terminal.
A man wearing a light-colored jacket stands inside a rope barrier, and the guard approaches the man, apparently telling him to move behind the rope.
Within a minute, the guard leaves the podium again and disappears into the crowd. A woman in a long white coat approaches the podium from inside the terminal; the man sees her and ducks under the security rope, and the two walk past, arm in arm.
The man was seen on a separate surveillance camera leaving the terminal about 20 minutes later, according to the TSA.
A bystander waiting for an arriving passenger noticed the breach and told the guard. TSA officials then discovered that surveillance cameras at the security checkpoint had not recorded the breach and were forced to consult backup security cameras operated by Continental Airlines.
Continental spokeswoman Susannah Thurston said Friday night that the airline had no comment on Jiang’s arrest.
Associated Press writers Bill Newill in Piscataway, N.J., and Matt Curry in Dallas contributed to this report.