June 23, 2009 in City

Woman cited in airplane incident

Witnesses say city paralegal pushed, yelled
Meghann M. Cuniff meghannc@spokesman.com, (509) 459-5534
 

A paralegal for the city of Spokane, accused of a drunken altercation on an airplane, claimed to be a city prosecutor who worked for the Police Department when flight attendants and airport police tried to calm her, according to police.

Sherilee “Leesa” M. Van Zandt, 37, was cited for fourth-degree assault June 6 after crews on a late-night flight from Seattle to Spokane said she yelled and pushed a flight attendant during the flight, according to a report by Spokane Airport Police. The case is being prosecuted in Spokane County District Court.

Van Zandt has been an attorney assistant for the city of Spokane since August, making $45,000 a year.

She’ll continue her job helping with civil cases as the criminal case proceeds, said City Attorney Howard Delaney.

“It’s really unrelated to her job and it was off duty, so I’m not really doing anything at this point until we see how it turns out,” Delaney said.

Van Zandt was handcuffed by airport police following reports of a drunken, profanity-laced tirade that ended with her allegedly pushing a flight attendant as she tried to leave an Alaska Airlines airplane that had landed at Spokane International Airport, police reports said.

“She kept reminding us that she was an attorney and that she fought for us on a daily basis,” according to a report written by airport police Officer Clay Creek.

Reached by phone Monday, Van Zandt declined comment.

She told airport police that she had traveled to Alaska because her brother died and that flight officials had changed her flight three times. She said she was upset at the way she had been treated. She also told police she’d had four beers, according to police records.

Van Zandt also told police she was a prosecutor who worked for the Police Department and suggested flight crews targeted her “because she was an Alaskan Native American,” according to an airport police report.

A witness told airport police he’d seen Van Zandt, who was traveling with a small child, drinking on the flight from Alaska to Seattle, then continue drinking at an airport bar between flights, according to police records.

Airline crews said she was acting unruly and appeared drunk prior to the flight, then she began yelling and ringing the call light button repeatedly during the flight, according to police records.


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