Denver TSA groping scheme UPDATE

The TSA has actively protected employees who were allegedly conspiring to commit frequent and serious acts of sexual assault. And the news reports about the event have left out more questions than they’ve answered, in part because no one appears to have bothered to get the police report — which took me all of five minutes by email from my living room, a thousand miles from Denver.

But before I describe the evidence, let me say this again: The TSA received a tip that some of its employees were sexually assaulting airline passengers in an airport checkpoint, and that the crime was routine and ongoing. And the TSA’s response was to protect those employees.

This week, CBS4 News in Denver reported that two TSA officers were fired from their jobs at Denver International Airport. The two officers, the report said, “were discovered manipulating passenger screening systems to allow a male TSA employee to fondle the genital areas of attractive male passengers” — an event that happened “roughly a dozen times.”

As Lisa Simeone has already written here, one officer signaled another when he saw a male passenger he found attractive, and the other officer pressed a button on the scanning machine to set it for a female passenger. Then, when the machine detected an “anomaly” in the supposedly female passenger’s crotch area, the first officer had a pretext to do a patdown on the attractive passenger’s crotch — “with the palm of his hands, which is contradictory to TSA searching policy” (though see yesterday’s post, which includes evidence that it’s not contradictory).

So: A conspiracy to grope the genitals of attractive strangers. If you and I did that at the airport, what would be the outcome?

The news reports about this event say two very strange things, side by side: First, the two officers were caught in the act by a “TSA supervisor” who witnessed the whole thing directly — the signal between officers, the deliberate use of the wrong setting on the passenger scanner, the false alarm about an “anomaly,” the genital patdown with the front of the hand. Confronted, the officer manipulating the scanner to trigger a false alarm admitted the whole thing to a TSA investigator. The TSA fired both officers, who have not been publicly named. But prosecutors who got a report of the gropings declined to file charges, because the TSA “has said it could not identify the male passenger who was groped.”

1.) A TSA supervisor stood in the airport and watched the officer groping the passenger.

2.) The TSA can’t identify the passenger.

So now let’s turn to the report from the Denver Police Department, which I’ve posted online. Take a moment to read the thing yourself — you don’t have to take my word for anything I’m about to say. Here’s what the report tells us:

On November 18, 2014, the TSA received an anonymous tip describing the scheme cooked up by its two employees that would allow one to grope the genitals of passengers he found attractive. The TSA began an investigation; and on February 9, 2015, a TSA investigator — not a checkpoint supervisor — watched the signal, the manipulation of the machine, and the front-of-the-hand patdown of the passenger’s genitals. On March 19, 2015, more than a month after the act of alleged sexual assault, Special Agent Charles Stone of the TSA Office of Inspection notified the sex crimes unit at the Denver Police Department of the event witnessed by the investigator.

A few things to notice. First, this sentence from the account of the TSA’s original contact with police:

“According to Mr. Stone, both [redacted] and [redacted] were terminated as a result of this incident.”

Second, this sentence about a later follow-up discussion with another Denver police detective, describing a discussion with a deputy district attorney:

“Mr. Stone also related that he had spoken with DDA Bonnie Benedetti, and that she had told him that if the victim could not be identified, the case would not be fileable.”

So in November of 2014, the TSA was warned that two of its officers were currently, actively conspiring to commit sexual assault. But the TSA did not notify the police about that anonymous tip. The Denver Police Department is the agency that regularly polices Denver International Airport; the DIA Bureau is listed on this directory.

If the TSA had notified the police about the tip in November, the police could have been watching the checkpoint to observe the groping incident that was instead witnessed by a TSA employee. But the police didn’t know about an allegation of active, current, ongoing sexual assault, because the TSA didn’t tell them.

And so an act of sexual assault occurred right in front of a TSA investigator — and the investigator let the victim walk away without approaching him and identifying him.

Then, in March 2015, the TSA informed the police of the allegation, and of the evidence of the event that a TSA investigator had personally witnessed more than a month before. But the TSA didn’t notify the police until both employees had been fired — in other words, until both participants in a scheme to commit sexual assault had been removed from the place in which they allegedly committed it.

It’s as if someone called the fire department to report a pile of cold ashes. The TSA waited to call the police until the passengers were long gone, the TSA officers alleged to have committed the crime were long gone, and the crime witnessed by a TSA investigator was more than a month old.

Then Special Agent Charles Stone called the District Attorney’s office, asked if charges would be filed in the absence of named victims, got the information that no named victims meant no charges . . . and then told the police detective assigned to the case that it wasn’t possible to identify any victims.

I sent a series of questions to the TSA press office by email — asking, among other things, why the TSA didn’t call the police when they got their tip in November, and why the TSA inspector who witnessed the incident as it happened didn’t approach the victim in order to identify him. Their complete response, which is plainly false on its face:

“These alleged acts are egregious and intolerable. TSA has removed two officers from the agency. All allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated by the agency. And when substantiated, employees are held accountable.”

All employees are most certainly not held accountable if they commit crimes at work but don’t get arrested because their employer worked to protect them from an effective police investigation; so no.

The TSA has had more than its share of embarrassments about employees being arrested for on- and off-duty crimes. In this instance, they received a serious allegation of ongoing sexual assault by TSA employees, and handled it in a way that kept the police from being able to investigate and which prevented prosecutors from filing charges. They protected a TSA agent who committed a dozen acts of planned and deliberate sexual assault, and they protected the agent(s) who helped him. They let a crime victim walk away unidentified, and they called the police only when it was too late to matter.

Unforgivable.