Atlanta, GA – A man armed with a laser-equipped gun pointed his weapon at two Atlanta Police Department (APD) Phoenix Air Unit officers as they flew past his apartment early Sunday morning, according to police.
Investigators said the suspect activated the firearm’s green laser sight and shined it into the cockpit of the police helicopter as APD Officer William Treadwell and Officer Eric Lightkep were helping officers on the ground with crowd control near the Mercedes Benz Stadium at approximately 1:15 a.m. on June 12, WMAZ reported.
Police video from the helicopter showed the brightly-piercing stream of blinding light as it beamed into the aircraft from the apartment complex below them, causing the officers to risk losing their eyesight and potentially losing control of the helicopter, according to the news outlet.
“[When] it hits you in the face, you kind of have to avert your eyes and lose vision even for just a couple of seconds while up there. It can definitely be dangerous,” Officer Treadwell later told WMAZ. “And when that laser hits the windscreen, it illuminates everything in the cockpit green, which can make it hard for the pilot or anybody to see the instruments and gauges.”
Officer Treadwell used his radio to call for assistance from the officers on the ground.
“We’re getting hit with a laser,” Officer Treadwell said over the radio. “It’s a dangerous situation for us. He’s just continually hitting me in the face with his laser…”
The officers used the helicopter’s high-definition camera to pinpoint the source of the light and spotted a man aiming the beam at them from outside the door of an apartment, WMAZ reported.
“As soon as he shined it at us, it’s a direct line to his position. We had him instantly on camera,” Officer Lightkep told WAGA.
They were able to direct the officers on the ground to where the suspect was located, WMAZ reported.
When police apprehended the man, they realized he had actually been pointing a gun equipped with a laser sight into the officers’ faces.
“Not only was it a laser – he could have had his finger on the trigger and then, you know, shot some rounds in our direction. So that’s very alarming,” Officer Lightkep told WMAZ.
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“There’s no other reason to shine a laser at an aircraft other than to distract the pilot and make it unsafe for him,” noted Officer Lightkep, who was piloting the helicopter that night. “So, I think they know what they’re doing…. First of all, it’s a distraction while trying to fly. So visually it’s a distraction, but it can become a real safety issue. And second of all, a lot of times it takes us off of our primary mission while we’re up in the first place.”
The suspect was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer, laser use against a law enforcement officer, and laser use against an aircraft, WMAZ reported.
He has been identified as 31-year-old Jamal Bard, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Police also charged Bard with cruelty to children because he used the laser while a young child was present, according to WAGA.
“Thanks to the teamwork between air and ground units, another reckless individual with a gun is off the streets,” the APD said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Officer Treadwell and Officer Lightkep said this was not the first time someone pointed a laser at them mid-flight, WMAZ reported.
In fact, they said it tends to happen several times every year.
“We do take it seriously and you will be held accountable if we see you doing it,” Officer Treadwell told WMAZ. “We’re going to catch you. We have cameras that are very advanced. We can see where exactly it’s coming from.”
The APD is not the only agency that doesn’t take such assaults lightly.
“It’s a federal charge as well as a state charge,” Officer Treadwell said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of instances of people pointing lasers at aircraft jumped 42 percent in 2021, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.