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As millions join the holiday crush at airports around the country, one man’s horror story of federal screeners inappropriately touching his pregnant wife and airport police handcuffing, interrogating and arresting him for objecting, may give some pause.
Los Angeles writer Nicholas Monahan’s Dec. 21 editorial on the incident that happened Oct. 26 at
Portland International Airport (PDX) was posted on a handful of websites including that of columnist Lew Rockwell, and has sparked an electronic-message fury. Monahan’s account suggests the sky is the limit for airport screeners in
carrying out their jobs of keeping would-be terrorists off flights, and that travelers who don’t quietly acquiesce to their demands face arrest, prosecution and future restrictions on their travel.
According to Monahan’s account, he and his wife were both selected for individual inspection at a PDX security checkpoint prior to boarding a flight to Las Vegas to attend a friend’s wedding.
“My shoes were removed. I was told to take off my sweater, then to fold over the waistband of my pants. My baseball hat, hastily jammed on my head at 5 a.m., was removed and assiduously examined … Soon I was standing on one foot, my arms stretched out, the other leg sticking out in front of me a la a
DUI test. I began to get pissed off, as most normal people would,” Monahan describes.
When the inspection ended, according to Monahan, he retrieved the couple’s luggage from the X-ray machine and returned to find his wife sitting in a chair, crying.
“I’m sorry … it’s … they touched my breasts … and…” Mary Monahan told her husband in between sobs. She also later informed him the employee had asked that she lift up her shirt in front of the passengers standing in line.
“I felt like a clown … on display for all these people, with the cotton panel on my pants and my stomach sticking out. When I sat down I just lost my composure and began to cry. That’s when you walked up,” Monahan quotes his wife as saying.
PDX spokesman Steve Johnson told WorldNetDaily the airport was “fully federalized” at the time so that screeners were employees of the new federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created by President Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks against the United States.
In accordance with a Nov. 19 deadline, TSA trained and dispatched 32,000 passenger screeners to all 429 airports across the country to run the security checkpoints.
According to its website, TSA has instituted standardized screening procedures at all airports that require each passenger to go through two stages of screening – baggage and passenger checkpoints – and some passengers to go through an additional stage of screening at the gate.
Secondary screening occurs when an individual sets off the alarm on the metal detector, or if he or she is selected for additional screening. This screening
includes a hand-wand inspection in conjunction with a pat-down inspection.
During the wanding procedure, passengers are asked to stand with their feet apart as the screener passes the wand over their entire body. The inspection may include opening belt buckles and removing shoes. Areas of the body that have body piercings, thick hair, hats, and other items may require a
“In order to ensure security, this inspection may include sensitive areas of the body. Screeners are rigorously trained to maintain the highest levels of professionalism. … Notify the screener when you have a special situation requiring sensitivity if a pat-down inspection is necessary. You may request a private area for your personal search,” the website instructs.
Most unsuspecting travelers singled out for random inspections under the new federal security procedures are unaware they can request the pat-down be done in private. And requesting a private pat-down comes with no guarantee of receiving one because not all airports have private rooms available.
TSA spokesman Brian Doyle told WorldNetDaily he couldn’t comment on the Monahan case because it had been referred to the agency’s legal department.
He did confirm that breasts are included in the pat-down because bras can hide things and underwire bras often set off the metal detectors.
“Our passanger screeners are trained to provide customer service as well as in providing worldclass security, which is our prime objective,” Doyle said and stressed that part of the training involves learning sensitivity towards people of diverse cultures and religions and those with certain physical conditions.
“We have extensive training in handling people with physical disabilities,” he said and described how screeners are trained to verbalize to passengers in wheel chairs that they’re going to touch their leg prior to actually touching it.”
When asked what the procedure is for screening pregnant women, Doyle said he didn’t know if the sensitivity training specifically included pregnant women.
Doyle agreed that the screener should have verbalized to Mary Monahan that she was going to touch her breasts prior to actually doing so. It’s unclear whether or not she did. Doyle said the TSA screeners’ reports of the incident are “not available because of litigation going forward.”
Enraged that the screening drove his wife to tears, Monahan “marched up to the woman who’d been examining her and shouted, ‘What did you do to her?'”
At that point, according to Monahan, the screener summoned Port of Portland Police officers who handcuffed him and held him in a jail cell within the airport for nearly two hours before citing him for
According to Monahan, officers called him a “menace” and threatened him with a felony charge.
The couple was also banned from the airport for 90 days and escorted off the property by the officers.
In the police report, the screeners’ statements ignore the issue of the pat-down of Mary Monahan’s breasts and instead claim Monahan was upset as soon as he had to take his hat off and “blew up” when scissors were found in his suitcase. The arresting officer, S. L. Strait, reported that Monahan was “pacing and speaking with his wife in a low, forced voice” and then began yelling obscenities and “swinging his arms around wildly and pacing back and forth as he yelled.” Strait also described the arrest as a “struggle” to get Monahan into handcuffs.
“I was afraid for the safety of the TSA security screeners and the many travelers coming through the checkpoint,” Strait explained.
Monahan accused the screeners of lying about his behavior to cover up their insensitive pat-down of his wife’s breasts. He said the scissors were seized from his bag after he was taken into custody, and he only learned about it later from his wife who witnessed it.
“There was no willful disregard of screening directions. No explosion over the discovery of a pair of scissors in a suitcase. No struggle to put handcuffs on. There was a tired man, early in the morning, unhappily going through a rigorous procedure and then reacting to the tears of his pregnant wife,” he
When asked whether it’s normal Port Police policy to arrest and handcuff people considered disruptive at security checkpoints, Johnson responded, “In this case that’s why the police responded
because of the disruption with the checkpoint and Mr. Monahan’s behavior.”
Doyle told WND that screeners are trained to call in a supervisor when someone proves disruptive and do not make the judgement call themselves to summon police.
“This isn’t a haphazard approach,” he said. “They’re trained not to put hands on anyone … that’s why we have law enforcement.”
Johnson confirmed that PDX airport does have a jail cell and that police “occasionally” have to arrest
“disruptive” travelers and charge them with disorderly conduct. Johnson could not speak to the officer’s reported threat of charging Monahan with a felony.
As far as the airport ban, or Airport Exclusion Order, Johnson also told WND that others have been issued before this one but he didn’t have an exact count.
In response to an appeal by Monahan, PDX Director of Aviation Steven Schreiber lifted the ban.
“After a review of the police report and my discussions with police staff, as well as a review of the TSA’s report on this incident, I concur with the officer’s decision to take you into custody and to
issue a citation to you for disorderly conduct. That being said, because I also understand that you were upset and acted on your emotions, I am willing to lift the Airport Exclusion Order,” Schreiber said.
“After the tragedy of 9/11, passengers are subject to much stricter scrutiny at the security check-points,” Schreiber wrote in his letter to Monahan. “For the most part, passengers accept the additional screening and, in fact, generally welcome it because they understand it is for their own protection. … Refusal to cooperate with security personnel cannot be tolerated at PDX, or any other airport.”
“Zero tolerance” for dissent
As WND reported, experts say, because of the way new airport security laws are written, unhappy passengers have little recourse to complain; airport security personnel have been given absolute authority, and any passenger-caused
problems, no matter how petty or minor, could result in prison terms of up to 20 years.
Firearms expert Charlie Cutshaw told WND that the new security measures “do little toward actual security but set the stage for an incipient police state by acclimatizing people to being body searched for no real reason. … The bottom line is that you must not protest when they strip you down at the
airport,” he said, because security personnel “have ‘zero tolerance’ for dissent.”
In the interest of getting the ordeal behind them, Monahan ultimately pleaded no contest to the disorderly conduct charge and was fined $250 dollars plus court costs.
To Monahan, the damage was done. Just after the incident, their baby breeched causing Mary Monahan to abandon her desire for a natural birth. He blamed the trauma she experienced at PDX.
Summing up his lesson from their airport experience, Monahan said, “Nothing’s going to stop the
inevitable. There’s no policy change that’s going to save us. There’s no election that’s going to put a halt to the onslaught of tyranny. It’s here already: this country has changed for the worse and will continue to change for the worse. There is now a division between the citizenry and the state. When that state is used as a tool against me, there is no longer any reason why I should owe any allegiance to that state.”