Tampa man accused of shining laser at police helicopter now federally charged

Published June 17, 2014

TAMPA —A man whose green laser caught the attention of a Tampa police helicopter crew in February now faces a federal criminal charge.

Jeremy Wayne Sumpter, 29, who lives in the central Tampa neighborhood of Riverside Heights, was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on a charge of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

Such conduct became a crime in 2012 when President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. The law allows a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

This appears to be the first time federal authorities in Tampa have applied the law, intended to protect pilots from distractions and even temporary blindness while flying.

According to a Tampa police report, Sumpter admitted to the offense when questioned by officers and when one of the pilots, Officer Brian Gentry, arrived in his flight suit, Sumpter asked, "Were you the one in the helicopter?"

Earlier this month, police arrested Bradley Steffes of Brandon on a similar state court charge.