Traveler Says TSA Jailed Him For Making Complaint, Lied In Court About Bomb Threat

What line does a traveler need to cross before he’s deemed worthy of arrest by airport security agents? According to one man, not only was he detained overnight after attempting to file a complaint about the way he was being treated, but a TSA supervisor then lied under oath about a bomb threat the traveler never made.

The Philadelphia Daily News has the story of a local man who was traveling from Philly to Miami in Jan. 2013 when he was put under scrutiny by airport security.

A scan of his bag brought up some questions about a tube-shaped case that showed up on the scan (it contained a heart-monitoring watch), and screeners asked him if he had any “organic matter” in his bag.

Thinking that organic matter referred to things like fresh produce and not highly-processed packaged foods, the traveler didn’t mention the energy bars he’d packed. This failure to disclose apparently didn’t go over well with the TSA supervisor. According to the traveler, the agent became confrontational.

After the energy bars were determined to not be a danger to anyone on the plane, the traveler asked to file a complaint about his treatment. He says he was told to wait while the form was obtained, but instead of returning with paperwork, TSA agents came back with police officers who handcuffed him and took him to an airport holding cell.

Three hours later, he was taken to another holding cell at a city police precinct, where the traveler says no one told him why he was being detained. It wasn’t until his 2 a.m. arraignment that he learned he’d been accused of “threatening the placement of a bomb” and making “terroristic threats.”

Thing is, he says he hadn’t done any of that. And the TSA agent’s initial statement about the incident doesn’t seem to indicate that there was a real threat made.

When the agent first talked to police, he claimed the traveler had said, “anybody can bring a bomb and you wouldn’t even know it,” which is a matter of opinion and not a threat.

That statement was later upgraded to “I could bring a bomb through here any day of the week and you would never find it,” which someone could possibly argue might be construed as a threat.

But when the case came to trial, that TSA agent testified that the passenger had put his finger in agent’s face and told him, “Let me tell you something. I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want.”

The agent also claimed under oath that it was the passenger who was making a scene.

“I saw a passenger becoming agitated,” he testified “Hands were in the air… had both hands with fingers extended up toward the ceiling up in the air at the time and shaking them.”

Except the Daily News’s Ronnie Polaneczky writes that the actual security footage from the airport shows quite the opposite. According to her account of what can be seen in the video, the traveler remains calm, with his laptop tucked under his arm and his hands clasped in front of him.

“Not once does he raise his hands,” writes Polaneczky. “Not once does he point a finger… If anyone is becoming agitated, the video shows, it is [the TSA agent].”

The court never got the chance to see this footage as the judge threw out all charges against the traveler within minutes of hearing the agent’s testimony.

But it may all finally come to light now that the traveler has filed a federal lawsuit [PDF] against the TSA, the agent, the Philadelphia police department and the officers involved.

The complaint alleges violations of the traveler’s Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure, and use of excessive force; false arrest; false imprisonment; malicious and retaliatory prosecution; and unconstitutional infringement of free speech.