Fresno, California - A Bakersfield man who pleaded guilty late last year to aiming a high-powered laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff’s Department helicopter has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, following a probe by the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Jose Javier Rosas, aka Jose Javier Rosas Jimenez, 62, was sentenced Monday. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.

According to court documents, Rosas struck and tracked the law enforcement helicopter with a green laser pointer during the evening hours. As a result, the pilot experienced glare, flash blindness, a significant loss of night vision, watering eyes, and eye pain and was forced to divert attention from assisting in the search for a robbery suspect.

“Pointing a laser at any aircraft is a reckless action, which has potential to cause a catastrophic incident affecting both the air crew and community. In this case, the airmen were impaired by the laser but were able to safely divert from the planned operation,” said Monica M. Miller, special agent in charge of the FBI Sacramento field office. “Due to the risk to public safety, anyone who witnesses an individual shining a laser at aircraft or any vehicle should immediately report the activity to law enforcement to protect the safety of the community.”

“As this sentence makes clear, Mr. Rosas’ actions put the life of this aircraft’s pilot and the safety of the general public in peril,” said Ryan Spradlin, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco, which oversees HSI’s enforcement efforts throughout northern California. “In addition to the jail term, this defendant will face removal to his native Mexico upon completion of his prison time. HSI will continue to use its resources and unique enforcement authorities to protect our communities from those who engage in criminal activity that endangers our citizens.”

Reports of laser attacks on aircraft have increased dramatically in recent years as powerful laser devices have become more affordable and widely available to the public. Last year, there were nearly 8,000 laser strikes reported in the United States. In the Eastern District of California, which encompasses 34 counties in eastern California, there were more than 200 reported incidents. Aviators are particularly vulnerable to laser illuminations when conducting low-level flight operations at night.