Prabhu Ramamoorthy Faces Life in Prison for Sexually Assaulting Sleeping Spirit Airlines Passenger

Prabhu Ramamoorthy was convicted of sexually assaulting a sleeping passenger on a Spirit Airlines flight and now faces life in prison and deportation. 

After a five-day trial, on Thursday, 35-year-old Ramamoorthy was found guilty of sexual abuse onboard an aircraft, stemming from an incident that occurred on January 3, according to a statement from the Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Office. The jury deliberated for only three and a half hours.

During the trial, the prosecutor submitted evidence that Ramamoorthy digitally penetrated the sleeping passenger, a 22-year-old woman, during an overnight flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. During the flight, the passenger woke up to find her pants unbuttoned and unzipped and sought help from the flight attendants, who notified the Wayne County Airport Authority. Upon landing, the man was taken into custody.

“Everyone has the right to be secure and safe when they travel on airplanes. We will not tolerate the behavior of anyone who takes advantage of victims who are in a vulnerable position, and we are glad the jury agreed. We appreciate the victim in this case for her courage to speak out,” United States Attorney Matthew Schneider said in the statement.

In a written statement, Ramamoorthy said he was in a “deep sleep,” induced by a pill, according to CNN, and that he didn’t believe he did anything to her. However, during an interview with an FBI agent, he said he “might have” undone her bra and that he cupped her breasts over her clothes. Ramamoorthy also told the FBI agent that he put his finger into her pants and tried to fondle her after unzipping her pants partway.

The victim was sitting in the window seat, Ramamoorthy was in the middle seat, and in the aisle seat was his wife. Ramamoorthy and his wife, who was not named, gave conflicting reports of what occurred, according to The Washington Post, and later acknowledged that the sleeping pill Ramamoorthy allegedly took was just Tylenol. The 35-year-old allegedly believed that anything he told police was inadmissible in court, based on his understanding of Indian law. 

Timothy R. Slater, Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI, said in a statement that Ramamoorthy’s federal conviction shows the FBI’s commitment to holding individuals accountable for their actions. Slater encouraged anyone who is the victim of a crime aboard an aircraft to immediately notify the flight crew, airport security, and the FBI.

prabhu Ramamoorthy convicted of sexually assaulting spirit airlines employee A Spirit Airlines plane lands at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on May 9, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Prabhu Ramamoorthy was convicted of sexually assaulting a sleeping passenger on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In an April statement, the FBI explained that instances of sexual assault aboard aircraft are “relatively small” given the number of people who fly each year, but added that “even one victim is unacceptable.” FBI Special Agent David Gates said the agency is experiencing more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before. In the fiscal year 2017, 63 cases were reported to the FBI in comparison to just 38 in the fiscal year 2014, although many cases are never reported.

Caryn Highley, a special agent in the FBI’s Seattle Division, said that airplanes often give fliers a false sense of being in a “bubble of safety,” when in actuality a dark cabin and close-quarter seating gives the allusion of privacy and tempts offenders. To help prevent a sexual assault on an aircraft, the FBI recommended people:

  • Reprimand the person immediately and ask to move seats
  • Don’t mix alcohol with sleeping pills or other medication
  • Keep the armrest between the seats down, even if the person sitting next to you seems friendly
  • Reserve aisle seats for unaccompanied minors so flight attendants can keep an eye on them
  • Report the incident immediately to a flight attendant and ask that they record the attacker’s identity and report the incident to law enforcement   

While an attacker may try to take advantage of the fact that the victim may not want to cause a scene over a fear of embarrassment or convince them it was unintentional, Gates explained, “these are not accidents,” and the same pattern of behavior is often observed.  

Ramamoorthy’s sentencing hearing is set for December 12 and he faces up to life in prison. If Ramamoorthy, who is in the United States on a work visa, is given a more lenient sentencing, he will be deported following the completion of his sentence.