Man threatened to fly plane into Reliant Plaza

March 19, 2010 7:04:35 AM PDT
An upset customer pled guilty to threatening a utility company employee in a building in downtown Houston. It's similar to what happened in Austin last month. It is the second threat of its kind against a Houston call taker and the threat specifically is flying a plane into the Reliant building in downtown Houston. The district attorney's office prosecuted and their message was that even words are taken seriously.

With 36 stories, Reliant Energy Plaza is by no means the tallest skyscraper in downtown. That title belongs to Chase Tower, but it is one of newest and the focus of a recent threat that landed Raymond Espinosa Rodriguez in jail.

"All law enforcement is taking these kind of threats more seriously," said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Donna Hawkins.

According to Houston police, Rodriguez was on the phone with a Reliant Energy call center agent. He was angry that the electricity at his home on Capitol was about to be shut off because he hadn't paid his bill, and he told the female agent he was going to take a plane and fly it into the building. That building was the 1000 Main Street location.

Though prosecutors decided he didn't have the means to carry out the threat, he was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to harassment for his words.

"Just words could potentially lead to action and we are watching out for the public's safety," Hawkins said.

His arrest comes two weeks after Sean Donnelly of Detroit was arrested for a similar threat to a Chase Bank call taker at a west Houston call center. The FBI says he too threatened to fly a plane into the building because he was angry about a property appraisal.

"That would not be protected speech," said attorney Randall Kallinen.

Kallinen fights passionately for freedom of speech, but he says there are some things you just can't say. Fire in a crowded theater is one, and threatening to fly a plane into a building is another.

"Because of the content, it was a threat on their life," Kallinen said.

Especially since images from February 18 are so fresh. That's when Joe Stack flew his single engine airplane into the IRS building in Austin, killing both himself and an IRS employee.

Companies like Reliant Energy train their agents to notify authorities immediately when they've been threatened, and especially now, prosecutors are ready to take action.

"The threat of an airplane going into a building is much more real now than it might have been in the past," said Hawkins.

A spokeswoman for Reliant Energy told us they report every threat to police and support prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. If you make a threat like this you can be charged with up to a third degree felony which if convicted means up to 10 years in jail.


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