The one-time president and CEO of a social services agency for troubled Alaskan youth is accused of assaulting a flight attendant because his tray table was broken.
“I’m a Gold Medallion; I can do whatever I want. Fuck you,” former AK Child & Family boss and licensed clinical social worker Denis McCarville said when other passengers intervened, according to a federal criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast.
He later told the FBI that “it would be very rare if he were to say… the ‘F’ word, as he is a social worker and does clinical work with kids,” the filing states.
McCarville, 70, took the top job at the venerable nonprofit in 2011, when it was still known as Alaska Children’s Services. Before that, he served as CEO of a group of residential treatment centers in Omaha, Nebraska. AK Child & Family says it “provides hope in troubled young lives through a broad range of psychiatric services,” which includes helping young people “develop self-esteem and the ability to live in harmony with others.” In 2017, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) met with McCarville in Washington and called his work “something all Alaskans should be proud of, and I am glad that he had the time to discuss issues important to improving the lives of Alaska’s youth.”
AK Child & Family, which says its work is “Based on the spirit of Christ’s love,” did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment about McCarville, who retired in December 2018. McCarville, who did not respond to voicemails and emails seeking comment, is no longer listed on the AK Child & Family website, but his blog posts remain—including one on the importance of “emotional intelligence.”
The tray-table episode went down as Delta Air Lines Flight 2236 made the five-hour journey from Minneapolis to Anchorage on Jan. 29, the complaint against McCarville states.
During the first beverage cart service, McCarville, who was sitting in seat 12C—an aisle seat—became upset after a female flight attendant identified in the complaint only as “L.C.” asked if he wanted a drink. He said he did, but complained that he couldn’t get the tray table out of his armrest, according to the complaint. L.C. told McCarville that he was welcome to switch to the empty middle seat next to him, which had a working tray table, the complaint says.
“He was still very upset, so L.C. offered to give him SkyMiles for the inconvenience to which he replied he didn’t want that but that she should reimburse (‘comp’) his entire flight ticket,” the complaint goes on. “L.C. replied… by stating she did not have the ability to do that, but he could talk to Delta representatives once they landed to see what compensations they could give him. He was not happy with L.C.’s response to which she apologized and stated she could not fix the arm tray table while in the air.”
L.C. then turned to serve the passenger in the seat directly across the aisle from McCarville, who suddenly jabbed L.C. in her left side, nearly knocking her over, according to the complaint.
“That was not okay, please do not touch me again, let’s keep our hands to ourselves,” L.C. responded, to which McCarville allegedly shot back, “Fuck you.”
Other passengers then stepped in, including the traveler sitting in the window seat next to McCarville, according to the complaint.
“Don’t talk to her like that and don’t put your hands on her,” McCarville’s seatmate said, as L.C. again told McCarville, “That’s not appropriate and you can’t just put your hands on me.”
McCarville, in response, then pulled out an unusual flex, telling L.C. that he had Gold Medallion status with Delta and that he was allowed to do “whatever I want. Fuck you.” He then told his seatmate to “shut the fuck up” and that he was in fact the one being a “jerk,” the complaint states.
L.C. began working another section of the aircraft in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. However, when she later passed by McCarville’s seat carrying a pot of coffee, he turned to make eye contact with her while sticking his foot out into the aisle to try and trip her, according to the complaint. McCarville did this to L.C. “several times” but not to any other crew members, the complaint states. The other flight attendants told L.C. to avoid the area where McCarville was seated, after which he apparently turned his remaining animus on the traveler next to him.
“L.C. stated near the end of the flight, the flight crew were notified by the window seat passenger in 12A, D.M., that [McCarville] had refused to allow him to pass by in order to use the restroom,” the complaint continues. “D.M. told the flight crew he nearly urinated himself because of [McCarville’s] actions.”
After the flight landed at the Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage Airport Police Dispatch contacted the FBI’s Anchorage Field Office for assistance. Officers and agents then questioned both L.C. and McCarville, along with other passengers and the rest of the flight crew.
L.C. said she recalled serving one alcoholic beverage to McCarville and that he was not slurring his words or otherwise appearing drunk.
“She reports that she has been a flight attendant with Delta for over eight years and knows what a gentle touch is when a passenger is trying to get your attention and when physically someone is actually angry,” the complaint states. “She was very scared and never had anyone touch, push, or prod her like [McCarville] had done.”
Another member of the flight crew said she “felt extremely uncomfortable” around McCarville and that he was cut off after downing “a couple bourbons,” according to the complaint.
McCarville, for his part, allegedly denied everything.
“He stated he was told by a Delta employee before boarding that the plane was brand new; however, he could not pull out his tray from the arm rest,” the complaint goes on. “He stated, ‘I asked her to help, and she didn’t want to, so that was the extent of it.’ He stated he thinks as she was walking by, he ‘tapped’ her and asked if she could help him with it. She told him not to touch her to which he replied, ‘okay’ and apologized to her.”
When he saw the police and FBI waiting for him in the terminal, McCarville said he thought they might have confused him with someone else, according to the complaint.
“McCarville speculated maybe this had something to do with his job as a social worker and the agency he works with in Fairbanks,” it goes on. “He did not think this was because of the tap… When asked about witnesses saying he told the flight attendant to ‘shut the fuck up,’ he stated he does not use that language. He further stated that it would be very rare if he were to say that or the ‘F’ word, as he is a social worker and does clinical work with kids.”
McCarville was arrested and brought to the Anchorage Correctional Center. There, according to the complaint, he was given a breathalyzer test, blowing an 0.123—well above the legal limit of 0.08.
The FAA initiated 823 investigations into unruly passengers during 2022, a slight dip from 1,099 in 2021. In 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 epidemic all but shut down air travel for many, the agency opened just 183 unruly passenger investigations. As The Daily Beast reported last April, a Southwest Airlines passenger traveling from Seattle to Phoenix was arrested for allegedly masturbating openly at least four times during the trip. That same month, a first-class Delta passenger became enraged while flying from Atlanta to Phoenix, spewing homophobic slurs, throwing ice, and striking a flight attendant who refused to serve the man any more liquor.
McCarville is charged with two federal felony counts: interference with flight crew members and attendants; and assault in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. He was released on his own recognizance and is set to plead guilty in a court appearance on Friday, according to court records.
McCarville’s court-appointed lawyer, Gretchen Staft, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.