HONOLULU – A mother pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that she physically and verbally assaulted her 15-month-old daughter during an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu.
Samantha Leialoha Watanabe allegedly cursed at the toddler, smacked her in the back of the head, pinched her and pulled out bits of her hair during the May 3 flight. A passenger told the FBI that Watanabe stuck a wad of cash in the girl's diaper, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.
Watanabe didn't speak during her arraignment Friday in federal court in Honolulu. Her federal public defender, Alexander Silvert, declined to comment after the hearing.
It's not clear why Watanabe, who lives in Hawaii, was traveling from Alaska.
A law enforcement officer who was a passenger on the flight said Watanabe cursed at the child, telling her to shut up, the court document said. He told the FBI she hit the girl in the face with a stuffed animal and smacked her on the back of the head so hard that the child's head snapped forward. The passenger "also observed Watanabe pull bits of the child's hair out and pinch the child several times while the child was crying," the document said.
It appeared that Watanabe was under the influence of some type of central nervous system stimulant, the passenger told the FBI.
As a condition of her release on $10,000 bond, Watanabe must enter a residential drug treatment program when space is available, the judge said.
The trial is scheduled for July. If convicted, she faces up to a year in jail.
The law enforcement passenger asked the flight crew to confront Watanabe. When flight attendants confronted Watanabe, she told the child, "No one is hurting you, what's the matter?" according to the complaint.
Another passenger told the FBI that "when the child cried, Watanabe began pinching the child then pulled out the child's hair," the complaint said. "Watanabe then held the hair out as if showing it to the child and threw it on the floor while the child cried."
Whenever the child tried to touch her mother's face, Watanabe slapped her hands and arms, the complaint said.
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