Mother On Trial For Hitting, Pinching Toddler During Long Flight

Samantha Leialoha Watanabe allegedly smacked her daughter in the face and yanked out clumps of hair to keep her quiet.

A Honolulu mother, accused of physically and verbally assaulting her 15-month-old daughter on a flight to Honolulu from Anchorage, Alaska, went on trial this week in federal court.

Passengers and flight attendants aboard the May 3 Alaska Airlines flight accused Samantha Leialoha Watanabe of pushing, smacking and pulling the hair of the toddler, Clementine, in an attempt to keep her quiet, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Wallenstein told jurors Wednesday.

Passengers described Clementine as generally well-behaved, Wallenstein said. He said she was "a 15-month-old-child who was pushed in the face with an open hand with enough force to cause her head to jerk all the [way] back to its full range of motion."

One passenger saw Watanabe cursing at her daughter, smacking her hard in the head, hitting her with a stuffed animal and pinching her as she cried, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press. Another passenger told the FBI that Watanabe stuck a bundle of cash in Clementine's diaper.

Watanabe appeared to be under the influence of a drug, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.

Alaska State Trooper Brian Miller, who was traveling with his family on vacation, told jurors that Watanabe pulled out chunks of Clementine's hair and blew it to the floor.

"She was telling [Clementine] to shut the F up and ... what's your problem and so on," Miller testified. 

Watanabe pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge in May and is free on $10,000 bond after agreeing to enter residential drug treatment.

Alexander Silvert, the public defender representing Watanabe, told the jury that passengers were judging Watanabe because of the way she looked or the how she had dressed Clementine. Silvert said previously that Watanabe is homeless and living in a shelter

During the long flight, Clementine was wearing a Playboy bunny pendant, which Silvert said may be a symbol of pornography to adults, but is just a bunny to a child.

Silvert told jurors evidence will show that Clementine had no bruises or marks on her body, and that there were no physical signs she was hit or her hair was pulled.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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