A lawyer for a Chinese graduate student charged with a security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport that led to worldwide flight delays entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday and defended his client as "simply a lovesick man who made a mistake."
Haisong Jiang's lawyer, Eric Bruce, entered the plea in Municipal Court to a charge of defiant trespassing. The misdemeanor charge carries a fine of up to $500. Bruce also sought a delay to review surveillance video and any statements Jiang made to authorities.
Authorities say Jiang, a Rutgers University student, entered a restricted area at the airport Jan. 3 to see off his girlfriend. The breach shut down a busy terminal, delayed or canceled about 200 flights around the world, affected an estimated 16,000 travelers and may have cost airlines millions of dollars as the terminal was emptied and passengers were rescreened.
Jiang was arrested Jan. 8.
Bruce said Tuesday that his client was sorry for the incident but declined to explain why he decided to plead not guilty.
"All Haisong Jiang wanted to do was kiss his girlfriend goodbye," Bruce said. "He's certainly not a security threat. He's simply a lovesick man who made a mistake, and he deeply regrets that."
Authorities caught up to Jiang at the home he shares with other graduate students after identifying him from airport surveillance video, which showed a man ducking under a barrier while a security guard was away from his post.
The guard, an employee of the federal Transportation Security Administration, has been suspended. The TSA says it's evaluating its security practices.
Jiang, 28, is a doctoral student in a joint molecular biosciences program at Rutgers. He has been in the U.S. since 2004.
Jiang's arraignment came on the same day a 27-year-old man was due in a Detroit courtroom on charges he breached security at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Monday.
Authorities say the man, identified in a criminal complaint as Kaylan L. Policherla, was arrested after walking through a passenger screening checkpoint without a boarding pass and refused to obey security officers.
Policherla is charged with violating federal security requirements, a one-year misdemeanor.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg has said misdemeanor charges for airport security breaches amount to little more than a "slap on the wrist," and has introduced legislation that would create a federal civil penalty of up to $10,000 for intentionally breaching airport security and a criminal penalty of up to 10 years in prison.