Airline-flight harassment case is heard (Philadelphia Inquirer: 3/18/06)

By Christopher Wink | Mar 18, 2006 | Philadelphia Inquirer

Local radio personality E. Steven Collins was settling into his first-class seat next to his wife on a flight to Philadelphia from Los Angeles when he noticed Robert Baldwin.

“He was muttering something,” Collins said.

From there, his July 31 flight got worse – a whole lot worse, he told a Philadelphia judge yesterday as he pressed charges of harassment and ethnic intimidation against Baldwin.

Collins contends that Baldwin, who sat behind him and his wife, used racial epithets, kicked his wife’s seat, and put his bare feet on her headrest throughout the five-hour ride.

Collins is large – more than 6 feet tall and more than 200 pounds – and has a booming voice. He could have responded to Baldwin’s affronts in many ways, he said.

He chose to notify the flight staff and ultimately the police, including a personal call to Commissioner Sylvester Johnson.

“African American men need to know that they don’t need to be violent to get justice in this system,” said Collins, host of E. Steven Live on WPHI-FM (100.3) and national sales director for Radio One Philadelphia.

He said justice began yesterday with the first day of Baldwin’s criminal trial.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Khan frequently pointed to the role of alcohol. One flight attendant testified that she had served Baldwin, of Blue Bell, two double vodka tonics. Another said she had thought Baldwin, who was accompanied by his son and wife, was intoxicated before he got on the plane.

In response, Baldwin’s attorney, Mark Cedrone, called several of Baldwin’s former coworkers from Rohm & Haas as character witnesses. Baldwin left the Philadelphia chemical company after the harassment charges were filed.

Colleagues labeled his reputation “excellent” and his history of racial tolerance “sterling.”

Cedrone also questioned whether Municipal Court had jurisdiction, because the dispute started in the air and ended at Philadelphia International Airport, part of which is in Delaware County.

Judge Marsha Neifield directed both sides to file briefs on the jurisdiction question by May 15 and said she would resume the trial May 23.

“Baldwin has to know that you can’t say things and do things without consequences,” Collins said. “We’ll pursue this every which way and in every direction possible.”

Contact Christopher Wink at

Text as it appeared in the March 18, 2006 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer on B01.