A Tampa man accused of groping a woman during an airline flight said "the President of the United States says it's okay to grab women by their private parts," according to a criminal complaint.
Bruce Michael Alexander, 49, grabbed the woman at least twice during a Sunday flight from Houston to Albuquerque, according to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.
Alexander made the comment about the president to an FBI agent, in an apparent reference to a 2005 conversation caught on video by Access Hollywood in which Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women.
The video was released in October 2016, after Trump became the Republican nominee for president.
Alexander was seated in a window seat aboard Southwest Flight 5421, behind a woman whom authorities only identified by her initials.
The woman told authorities she fell asleep on the plane and about 15 to 20 minutes into the flight, she "felt her clothes move and a touching of fingers on her right side" of her upper body.
At first, she said, she thought it was an accident. Then it happened again, she said, recalling "a hand that had thick fingers, were hairy and dirty finger nails," the complaint said.
She felt the hand grab her arm, then "slowly and 'attentively' grope her right side," according to the complaint.
Witnesses on board said they saw the woman stand up and tell the man behind her that she didn't know why he thought it was okay to touch her. The woman told him he needed to stop and she asked for a different seat, the witnesses said. A crew member moved her to the back of the plane, they said.
The Tampa man's father, Ray Alexander, defended his son.
"I don't believe the allegations are true," he said. "I'm convinced he's not guilty. From everything I've heard and read about it so far — and from talking to him — I am convinced that what he said and what he was charged with did not happen."
Bruce Alexander works as a heavy equipment operator, according to the criminal complaint. He listed a Valrico address when he was arrested in July 2017 on a charge of DUI, according to Hillsborough County jail records. He eventually was judged guilty of a reduced charge, reckless driving.
Alexander was arrested Sunday at Albuquerque International Sunport on a charge of abusive criminal contact. He gave a written statement to federal agents, saying he was asleep for most of the flight but remembered a woman sitting in front of him who changed seats. He told agents he could not describe her.
Authorities said Alexander's hands and physical description resembled the information provided by the woman passenger.e_SClBHe was placed in handcuffs and asked about the sentence for the charge he faces. Later, in a vehicle, he "stated that the President of the United States say's it's ok to grab women by their private parts," said FBI Special Agent Michael Hopkins, who filed the complaint.
In an emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Southwest said the airline's customer service representatives and local law enforcement officers were asked to meet Flight 5421 upon arrival in Albuquerque because of "reports of a customer's alleged inappropriate behavior onboard." Southwest referred questions to authorities.
Alexander remained in federal custody as he awaited a detention hearing Tuesday, according to the Justice Department. He was seeking a court-appointed lawyer and was being held at the Sandoval County Jail.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Justice Department.
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Daniel Figueroa IV can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @danuscripts