January 10, 2010
New York Times
Al Baker and Liz Robbins
When a man ducked past security at Newark Liberty International Airport last Sunday to kiss his girlfriend goodbye, the breach in security shut down one of the country’s busiest airports, delayed flights through Monday and prompted an intensive manhunt from New Jersey detectives that ended on Friday evening on a street in Piscataway, N.J.
But the man police sought was not even home. He was at the gym.
When Haisong Jiang, a 28-year-old Rutgers University graduate student, returned, the police arrested him.
On Saturday, some of Mr. Jiang’s roommates described him as a “romantic” now trying to secure a lawyer after the dizzying turn of events. His actions might have seemed innocently romantic to him, his friends said. But the incident was yet another lapse in airport security that frustrated harried travelers in the wake of the failed plane bombing on Christmas and incensed one New Jersey lawmaker over the leniency of Mr. Jiang’s potential penalty.
According to a statement from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Mr. Jiang would be charged with defiant trespass. He was issued with a summons and told to appear in Newark Municipal Court.
It is a “petty disorderly persons offense,” said Paul M. Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County district attorney’s office, explaining that such an offense did not qualify to be prosecuted in federal court and only carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail.
In an interview on Saturday, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, of New Jersey, said he was hoping that the United States attorney’s office would consider bringing federal charges because the penalty Mr. Jiang is facing, “is hardly noteworthy and would not discourage people who want to break through the perimeter.”
The senator said the trouble the security breach caused far outweighed the punishment: 1,600 people stuck in the airport for six hours; flights delayed and an “incalculable” loss of money. And then for five days after the incident, New Jersey law enforcement officials searched exhaustively for the man caught on a grainy surveillance video, one which Sen. Lautenberg had released on Thursday.
The video showed that Mr. Jiang was able to step past security last Sunday when a guard, identified by a law enforcement official as Ruben Hernandez, left his post. The guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday, and he faces disciplinary action, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Without Mr. Hernandez watching, Mr. Jiang was able to slip into an area of people who had already cleared security and embraced a woman in a puffy coat and kissed her. When security officials were alerted that someone had breached a secure area, they took steps to lock down the terminal.
Ning Huang, 33, a former Rutgers graduate student and a friend of Mr. Jiang’s identified the woman as Mr. Jiang’s girlfriend. Mr. Huang did not provide the woman’s name, but said she is a former Rutgers student who has dated Mr. Jiang for about a year and now lives in Los Angeles.
“He loves her very much,” Mr. Huang said on Saturday, outside the two-story house Mr. Jiang shares with five roommates. Mr. Huang added that his friend “just wanted to say goodbye to his girlfriend, so it was a very emotional moment. I don’t think he realized what he’s doing.”
Andy Riu, a friend of Mr. Jiang, also came to the Piscataway house after word spread on a soccer league’s online message board that Mr. Jiang would miss a scheduled 2 p.m. pickup game because he had been arrested.
“I think this man is very romantic,” Mr. Riu said.
Mr. Jiang, who comes from the Jiangxi province of China, said Mr. Huang, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, according to the Rutgers University Web site. He intended to find a job in Los Angeles after graduation so he could be with his girlfriend, Mr. Huang said.
“I just hope this doesn’t affect his future career path.”
Mr. Jiang has not spoken publicly since his arrest. He was held in a building at the airport until about midnight Friday, when he was released on his own recognizance.
No date for his arraignment has been set yet, Esmeralda Cameron, a spokeswoman for the Newark Municipal Court said on Saturday.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting from Piscataway, N.J.