A former Transportation Security agent accused of making threats against Los Angeles International Airport that led to a series of suspicious package investigations appeared in court Monday for a bond hearing.
Nna Alpha Onuoha is charged with two federal counts of making threats -- making a false threat and making threats affecting interstate commerce. If convicted on both charges, he could be sentenced to as much as 15 years in federal prison.
The hearing Monday was to determine whether Onuoha is eligible for release as the case works through the federal system. His attorney said Onuoha, escorted into the courtroom by federal marshals, is not a threat to the community, and could be expected to make court appearances as requires.
Judge Magistrate Patrick Walsh was not persuaded, characterizing Onuoha's behavior as "irrational," and at one point asking public defender Samuel Josephs, "Has he just snapped?" Judge Walsh urged Josephs to request a mental competency evaluation for Onuoha.
At the conclusion of the 25 minute hearing, Onuoha was denied bond and ordered to remain held in custody.
The 29-year-old Inglewood resident was arrested Sept. 10 outside a Riverside church -- he was found alone in a minivan that contained a red cross -- after leaving messages and making phone calls that investigators perceived as threats. He submitted his TSA resignation and delivered a package addressed to a manager at TSA's LAX headquarters, then allegedly made phone calls to screening locations and airport police.
Onuoha also sent three advance-dated letters that arrived on the anniversary of 9/11, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Mills during the hearing. The letters were filed with the court and NBCLA was able to obtain copies. One letter was addressed to staff at the veterans housing complex where he lived, another to two of his former TSA colleagues, and a third to his former National Guard unit.
"If I don't see you all in this soon to pass world, I hope to see you all in the new World," read in part the letter to US Vets. Mills cited similar entiments in all three letters as evidence Onuoha was anticipating death, though none contained any threats.
The letters focused on Onuoha's relgious viewers and urged his readers to repent. One was signed, "Yours in Christ and the war on Satan, Nna Alpha."
'The court has a responsibility to try to figure out if this is simply his religion, or if it's beyond that--if it's a lack of being in touch with reality, if there's potential violence. And it's not always an easy call, said Royal Oakes, an attorney and NBC4 legal analyst.
No explosives have been found in any of the packets he sent, or in the LAX terminals he allegedly told officials to evacuate. Onuoha told federal authorities he "did not intend to engage in violent conduct," according to an FBI affidavit.
The LAX package prompted a bomb squad response.
Investigators also responded to Ouoha's apartment at Westside Veterans Residence, where they found a note taped inside of his closet with an "unspecified threat" citing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks anniversary. Onuoha told the FBI that the date was a reference to when he planned to begin preaching in the streets.
Onuoha worked for the TSA since 2006. He was disciplined in July after a complaint that he shamed a teenage girl at the security checkpoint about the way she was dressed.
More Southern California Stories: