US flight attendant pleads not guilty to attempting to record teen girl in airplane bathroom

An iPhone is taped to the back of a toilet seat on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Boston, Sept 2, 2023. Thompson pleaded not guilty on May 20, 2024, on charges of trying to secretly video record a 14-year-old female passenger using an airplane bathroom last September. Police have also alleged that Thompson had recordings of four other girls using lavatories on an aircraft where he worked. — Lewis & Llewellyn LLP via AP, File

BOSTON: An American Airlines flight attendant who authorities say tried to secretly record video of a 14-year-old girl using an airplane bathroom last September on May 20 pleaded not guilty to two counts in federal court in Boston.

Estes Carter Thompson III was indicted last month on one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of images of child sexual abuse depicting a prepubescent minor.

Police also allege Thompson, 36, of Charlotte, North Carolina, had recordings of four other girls – ages 7, 9, 11 and 14 – using aircraft lavatories.

Thompson was charged and arrested in January 2024 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He has been in federal custody since.

According to investigators, about midway through a Sept 2, 2023, flight from Charlotte to Boston, the 14-year-old got up to use the main cabin lavatory nearest to her seat but found it was occupied.

Thompson told her the first-class lavatory was unoccupied and escorted her there, investigators said. She told investigators that before she entered the bathroom, Thompson told her he needed to wash his hands and that the toilet seat was broken.

After he left, the teen entered the bathroom and saw red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid, which was in the open position, officials said. Beneath the stickers, Thompson had concealed his iPhone to record a video, investigators said. The girl used her phone to take a picture of the stickers and concealed iPhone before leaving.

Prosecutors also allege hundreds of images of child sexual abuse generated through artificial intelligence were found stored on Thompson’s iCloud account, as well as the images of the other four girls captured on earlier flights.

American Airlines said following his arrest that Thompson was “immediately withheld from service” and hadn't worked for the airline since the phone was discovered.

Attempted sexual exploitation of children carries a sentence of 15-30 years in prison, while possessing images of sexual abuse of a prepubescent minor can mean up to 20 years in prison.

Both charges also provide for at least five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release, a fine of up to US$250,000 and restitution.

Thompson is due back in court on July 1. – AP

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