"You Touch My Junk, I'll Have You Arrested"

Illustration for article titled You Touch My Junk, Ill Have You Arrested

John Tyner, traveling this week out of San Diego, opted-out of the back-scatter x-ray and a pat-down. After being escorted out, he was told TSA planned to sue him. Luckily, he caught everything on video. Here's his story. —Ed.

Advertisement

[These events took place roughly between 5:30 and 6:30 AM, November 13th in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport. I'm writing this approximately 2 1/2 hours after the events transpired, and they are correct to the best of my recollection. I will admit to being particularly fuzzy on the exact order of events when dealing with the agents after getting my ticket refunded; however, all of the events described did occur.

I had my phone recording audio and video of much of these events. It can be viewed below.

Advertisement

Please spread this story as far and wide as possible. I will make no claims to copyright or otherwise.]

This morning, I tried to fly out of San Diego International Airport but was refused by the TSA. I had been somewhat prepared for this eventuality. I have been reading about the millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray machines and the possible harm to health as well as the vivid pictures they create of people's naked bodies. Not wanting to go through them, I had done my research on the TSA's website prior to traveling to see if SAN had them. From all indications, they did not. When I arrived at the security line, I found that the TSA's website was out of date. SAN does in fact utilize backscatter x-ray machines.

I made my way through the line toward the first line of "defense": the TSA ID checker. This agent looked over my boarding pass, looked over my ID, looked at me and then back at my ID. After that, he waved me through. SAN is still operating metal detectors, so I walked over to one of the lines for them. After removing my shoes and making my way toward the metal detector, the person in front of me in line was pulled out to go through the backscatter machine. After asking what it was and being told, he opted out. This left the machine free, and before I could go through the metal detector, I was pulled out of line to go through the backscatter machine. When asked, I half-chuckled and said, "I don't think so." At this point, I was informed that I would be subject to a pat down, and I waited for another agent.

A male agent (it was a female who had directed me to the backscatter machine in the first place), came and waited for me to get my bags and then directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening. After setting my things on a table, he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a "standard" pat down. (I thought to myself, "great, not one of those gropings like I've been reading about".) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, "if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.

Advertisement

We both stood there for no more than probably two minutes before a female TSA agent (apparently, the supervisor) arrived. She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor.

I took a seat in a tiny metal chair next to the table with my belongings and waited. While waiting, I asked the original agent (who was supposed to do the pat down) if he had many people opt out to which he replied, none (or almost none, I don't remember exactly). He said that I gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket. I replied that the government took them away after September 11th. There was silence until the next supervisor arrived. A few minutes later, the female agent/supervisor arrived with a man in a suit (not a uniform). He gave me a business card identifying him as David Silva, Transportation Security Manager, San Diego International Airport. At this point, more TSA agents as well as what I assume was a local police officer arrived on the scene and surrounded the area where I was being detained. The female supervisor explained the situation to Mr. Silva. After some quick back and forth (that I didn't understand/hear), I could overhear Mr. Silva say something to the effect of, "then escort him from the airport." I again offered to submit to the metal detector, and my father-in-law, who was near by also tried to plead for some reasonableness on the TSA's part.

Advertisement

The female supervisor took my ID at this point and began taking some kind of report with which I cooperated. Once she had finished, I asked if I could put my shoes back on. I was allowed to put my shoes back on and gather my belongs. I asked, "are we done here" (it was clear at this point that I was going to be escorted out), and the local police officer said, "follow me". I followed him around the side of the screening area and back out to the ticketing area. I said apologized to him for the hassle, to which he replied that it was not a problem.

I made my way over to the American Airlines counter, explained the situation, and asked if my ticket could be refunded. The woman behind the counter furiously typed away for about 30 seconds before letting me know that she would need a supervisor. She went to the other end of the counter. When she returned, she informed me that the ticket was non-refundable, but that she was still trying to find a supervisor. After a few more minutes, she was able to refund my ticket. I told her that I had previously had a bad experience with American Airlines and had sworn never to fly with them again (I rationalized this trip since my father-in-law had paid for the ticket), but that after her helpfulness, I would once again be willing to use their carrier again.

Advertisement

At this point, I thought it was all over. I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn't know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties. I then pointed to Mr. Silva and asked if he would be subject to any penalties. He is the agents' supervisor, and he directed them to escort me out. The man informed me that Mr. Silva was new and he would not be subject to penalties, either. He again asserted the necessity that I return to the screening area. When I asked why, he explained that I may have an incendiary device and whether or not that was true needed to be determined. I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. He told me that their procedures are on their website, and therefore, I was fully informed before I entered the airport; I had implicitly agreed to whatever screening they deemed appropriate. I told him that San Diego was not listed on the TSA's website as an airport using Advanced Imaging Technology, and I believed that I would only be subject to the metal detector. He replied that he was not a webmaster, and I asked then why he was referring me to the TSA's website if he didn't know anything about it. I again refused to re-enter the screening area.

The man asked me to stay put while he walked off to confer with the officer and Mr. Silva. They went about 20 feet away and began talking amongst themselves while I waited. I couldn't over hear anything, but I got the impression that the police officer was recounting his version of the events that had transpired in the screening area (my initial refusal to be patted down). After a few minutes, I asked loudly across the distance if I was free to leave. The man dismissively held up a finger and said, "hold on". I waited. After another minute or so, he returned and asked for my name. I asked why he needed it, and reminded him that the female supervisor/agent had already taken a report. He said that he was trying to be friendly and help me out. I asked to what end. He reminded me that I could be sued civilly and face a $10,000 fine and that my cooperation could help mitigate the penalties I was facing. I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, "then I'm leaving". He replied, "then we'll bring a civil suit against you", to which I said, "you bring that suit" and walked out of the airport.

Advertisement

This video starts with my bag and belongings going through the x-ray machine.They're kind of long, and they don't show much, but the audio is really good.

After I was escorted out to the ticketing area, I went to have my ticket refunded. I didn't have the opportunity or the presence of mind to turn the camera back on until everyone walked away from me.

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images News


Republished with permission from John Tyner's blog, "Insert Title Here."

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

The fucking TSA just pulled THE SAME SHIT (sans civil suit, but with the attempt to make me stay) on me last week. I was flying back from MSP (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) and despite being a (very) frequent flier, and having booked my tickets well in advance, I got "randomly" pulled out of line for the AIT. I said "no, I won't go in there".

From that second I knew it was going downhill. The jack-stepping TSA "agent" took me over to the pat down area and I said "don't even try it" before we even got there. That stopped him cold as he stared me down. My exact words were "you can stare all you want, I'm NOT going through that machine and you are NOT touching me.

"Why not?" To which I asked him if he understood the constitution and understood illegal search and seizure. He said nothing and waved another person over. Just like this author, about six people came over, the entire time I was (reasonably, I'll admit, not fully) calm with them as I re-stated that I would absolutely not go through the AIT or submit to an illegal pat-down. They didn't like that I called it illegal, and I told them I frankly didn't care - but I wasn't submitting to it.

Then it got worse. The supervisor kept getting more and more alpha, even at one point the lone sane employee said "hey, maybe we should go over here and talk it out, he hasn't done anything wrong".. that didn't go over well. It was at that point where I very calmly said "okay, this is fine, I completely understand that you guys have regulations and rules to follow. I hope you understand I have my rights to protect. Since we can't come to an agreement I'm just going to gather my things and go rent a car to drive home.. ok?" In retrospect there was no way I could have said it nicer, but whoa man did that set off the supervisor. He said something I didn't understand at all, but then another guy showed up, and more TSA folks, and it was just a fucking mess.

That's when I had enough. I still had my phone in my pocket so I pulled it out and dialed a lawyer. "What are you doing?" was the response to that, and I - again calmly - told him that since they were now illegally detaining me that I was calling my lawyer. I told them if they were going to arrest me or detain me that they had better do it now, and better have a good reason, or they should let me go before this gets ugly.

It got ugly.

Thankfully the lawyer did pick up immediately, and was there right as the supervisor started flipping out and attempting to cite US Code. Yeah, nice try. Said lawyer had to speak VERY loudly and informed him that no, they had absolutely no right to detain me as refusal of a search does not equal anything for probable cause as I did not meet any other criteria for detainment and I did have a very long record of travel. Furthermore said lawyer stated, they had better release me right now or the lawyer would be picking up their other phone to call the Minnesota attorney general's office informing them that a passenger was being illegally detained against Minnesota state law, and that we intended to file suit against the TSA and state of Minnesota in the event that I wasn't immediately released.

Amazingly enough, it didn't end there. Nope, this TSA moron just had his alpha male on full bore and I really at one point was genuinely scared that I was going to end up detained due to this jackass. Finally, FINALLY a - like this story - suited guy came over and told the supervisor that this was "causing a scene" and it was time to talk. They talked in a corner, and the suited guy came back and told me to gather my things and leave the airport immediately.

Sure, I said, but I needed to go to the rental counter first. You know what happened at the rental counter? A really nice little gal was hooking me up with an Impala or something as we talked Football, then when she asked why I was driving instead of flying I told her - and she just stood with her jaw open. "Yeah, there's no way I'd let those skeevy TSA pricks touch me either" she said quietly, the said "okay, how about I give you a free upgrade to a Camaro so you can get home a little faster?" she said with a smile.

Amazing.

I drove home with not a single problem, listening to ESPN radio, my iPod and an ebook in the relative comfort of a Camaro bolting down the interstate. Instead of a 90 minute flight, sure, the drive took me six hours. But take out the screening time, the time sitting at the gate, and the time deplaning and.. you know.. I made the right choice.

It's sad that this is what made me stop flying, but I'm honestly done. The past 9 years the TSA has increasingly pissed me off, and finally I've had enough. We have a fantastic interstate highway system and are at the pinnacle of automotive engineering. I'd rather take a little more time and arrive with my nerves intact than have a shorter but 100% stressed form of travel.