A man who claims he exposed himself on a flight to Salt Lake City because he accidentally got peppermint on his penis has been cleared of wrongdoing.
The 49-year-old Provo man first came under investigation when a woman sitting next to him on the flight from Washington, D.C., via Minneapolis, told police he had exposed his genitals. The FBI eventually began looking into the case, and in April, federal prosecutors filed a class C misdemeanor against the man for "indecent exposure of his genitals and/or engaging in masturbation in a public place."
The case went to a bench trial in September.
Thursday, a judge found the man not guilty, saying federal attorneys failed to prove that he meant to break the law.
The man's troubles began Nov. 17, 2012, when according to documents he sat in 25F, a middle seat between two women. The documents say the woman in the window seat saw the man cover his lap with a coat and "continually moving his arm under the coat."
As the flight neared Salt Lake City, the woman leaned forward to put away her glasses and saw that the man was "holding his exposed penis in his right hand." She confronted the man, who apologized.
The woman reported the incident to police when the plane landed.
During an interview, the man later told investigators he had inadvertently put peppermint oil on his genitals. He explained to police that he had a headache before the flight but didn't believe in using medication. Instead, he applied the peppermint oils to his head in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. While using the bathroom, the oils got on his genitals, which began to burn and feel irritated during the flight.
In response, the man unbuttoned his pants and removed his genitals from his undergarments, though he told investigators he did not further remove them from the rest of his clothing. He also said he didn't believe he had exposed himself.
The woman who sat in the aisle seat testified at the man's trial that she saw nothing.
The federal judge cites five reasons in Thursday's ruling for declaring the man not guilty. First, the man covered himself with a jacket; second, the woman didn't see anything until she bent over; third, the man did not have an erection; fourth, the nighttime flight was dark; and fifth, the man showed "no consciousness of guilt following the incident." The judge also pointed out that the man has no criminal history.
Taken together, those facts raise a reasonable doubt of the man's guilt, the judge concluded.