The JetBlue flight attendant whose job-quitting meltdown landed him in court pleaded guilty to attempted criminal mischief on Tuesday and will undergo at least a year of counselling and treatment for substance abuse.
"At the end of the day, I'm a grown-up, and I must take responsibility for my actions," Steven Slater said outside a New York City court. He thanked his lawyer, prosecutors, his mother and his partner and said the public interest in his case had surprised him.
Slater pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted criminal mischief, a felony, before mental health court Judge Patricia Hirsch. He also pleaded guilty to fourth-degree attempted criminal mischief, a misdemeanour.
If he completes the treatment program to the judge's satisfaction, the top charge will be dismissed and only the misdemeanour will remain. If he does not complete it, he will be sentenced to one to three years in jail.
Slater's dramatic airplane exit occurred Aug. 9 just after landing aboard a JetBlue Airways flight from Pittsburgh to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Slater got into an altercation with a passenger who had stood up before the plane came to a halt. He then used loudspeaker to curse at passengers, and slid down the plane's emergency chute with a beer in hand.
His unusual departure made him a cult hero to some.
He was a topic on TV shows, on the front pages of newspapers and hundreds of thousands of fans online cheered him for standing up to the inhospitable world of airline travel and quitting his job so spectacularly.
Slater remains unemployed after resigning from JetBlue. He worked there about three years, though he had spent almost 20 in the airline industry.
JetBlue suspended Slater and told employees in a memo that press coverage was not taking into account how much harm can be caused by emergency slides, which are deployed with a potentially deadly amount of force.
Actions were serious: DA
District Attorney Richard Brown scolded Slater — and the public — for not taking his actions more seriously, noting it cost $25,000 to fix the slide and that the plane had to be taken out of service afterward, causing flight delays.
Slater's attorney, Daniel J. Horwitz, said his client took the matter very seriously. He said Slater had been under tremendous pressure because of his terminally ill mother, recently deceased father, and health problems of his own, adding that his client is HIV positive.
Slater was upbeat and smiling outside court, dressed in a grey suit, blue shirt and gold tie.
"I am very grateful to the court for making these arrangements," said Slater, who did not answer questions.
Slater was initially charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing. He underwent a mental health evaluation and it was determined he was fit for the alternative sentencing program.
His case was transferred to Mental Health Court, a special division of state justice where defendants are monitored and treated instead of immediately jailed.