Man Charged with Pointing 'Military-Grade Laser' into Police Helicopter in Flight

A Tennessee man allegedly aimed a beam of a "military-grade" laser into the cockpit of a police helicopter that was flying over the Nashville metropolitan area on Saturday night, the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) reported.

Since his alleged actions put the helicopter's two pilots at risk for permanent blindness, according to WKRN, Shannon Cole was arrested on two counts of felony reckless endangerment and two counts of assault with a laser pointer. FOX 17 reported that Cole posted $13,000 bond.

Officers were "conducting flight operations" in Air Force One, a marked MNPD helicopter, around 8:45 p.m. local time, when the aircraft was suddenly and repeatedly illuminated by a bright green light, according to WKRN. It was hovering two miles south of the city at an altitude of 750 to 1,000 feet in an attempt to discourage street racing on Interstate 24.

In a tweet published Monday afternoon, the MNPD named the two officers: Matt Harris and Spencer Pittman.

MNPD pilots Matt Harris & Spencer Pittman Were flying as part of street racing enforcement Sat night when their cockpit was illuminated several times by a military grade laser from the ground. Officers found & charged Shannon Cole, 43, with felony reckless endangerment & assault.

— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) May 17, 2021

By circling the area, the officers identified the source of the beam as an apartment in the neighborhood of Bridgeway Circle and reported the location to the department, according to FOX 17. Officers deployed to investigate took Cole, 43, into custody. He was still clutching the laser when they found him, police said, adding that he admitted to the crime.

The laser, which Cole's arrest warrant described as powerful enough to cause "permanent blindness" with "minimal exposure," had a range of 10 miles and a force of 5,000 milliwatts. For context, lasers are considered dangerous at a force of more than 5 milliwatts, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

For that reason, the Food and Drug Administration recommends against purchasing laser pointers for children. If either officer had been hit directly in the eye, they could have lost control of the flight equipment, with potentially fatal consequences, according to FOX 17.

After he made the report, Pittman was able to land the helicopter safely at the MNPD hangar. There, he alerted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Nashville International Airport Air Traffic Control, according to WSMV. The FAA launched an investigation, according to WKRN.

In a statement released to News 2 on Monday morning, the agency said no injuries were known to have occurred. However, the helicopter might have suffered damage to its optical equipment.

A helicopter circling in the sky.
Over the weekend, a helicopter belonging to the Metro Nashville Police Department was the victim of an attack that involved a military-grade laser. In this stock image, a helicopter can be seen circling. Win McNamee/Getty Images