TSA violence

by Bill Fisher on December 10, 2012

A TSA screener was shot and killed at Cleveland International Airport by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself.

The 28-year old man followed his wife, who was commuting to work with another TSA screener, to the airport Sunday. The husband rammed the back of their car, got out, and started shooting. The other TSA agent managed to escape, while the woman’s husband shot at him. The man wasn’t hit. Then the husband shot his wife to death and killed himself.

This is the second female TSA worker who has been killed in an apparent domestic dispute. Ruben Orlando Benitez, 45, a TSA Security Director at Jackson-Evers International Airport was arrested in connection with the stabbing death of TSA screener Stacey D. Wright. Wright was found stabbed to death in her apartment on September 18, 2011.

In another case involving domestic violence, a TSA screener, Robert Don Jensen, 40, of Brinsmade, North Dakota was charged with felony terrorizing, assault, and ingestion of a controlled substance. He allegedly got into a fight with his roommate, roughed him up, and threatened him with a gun.

In another incident Diego Gonzalez, 27, a TSA screener at Albuquerque airport, shot himself after firing at police with a handgun. The family told police that he had kidnapped his 8-months-pregnant wife and her 2-year-old son and gave police a description of his car.

There have also been other assaults by TSA screeners beyond those involving domestic violence. A TSA employee accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Georgia had already spent time in jail for stalking and harassment. In November of 2010, Randall Scott King, 49, a TSA screener at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport was left in critical condition when he attempted suicide after allegedly abducting and sexually assaulting a woman. King had also spent time in jail for stalking and harassment, an investigation by WTSB-TV in Atlanta.

In other cases of TSA employee violence, there have been at least five other incidents over the past two years. A brief list of the more notable includes:

“In February of 2011 an Indianapolis Airport TSA employee has been fired after being arrested on airport property for aggravated assault. Michael Merriman, 59, was arrested Tuesday morning shortly after a witness saw him punch another airport employee in the head multiple times.”

“The Department of Justice announced George Thompson, 64, an employee of the Transportation Security Administration in Minneapolis, pleaded guilty today in federal court to violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act by assaulting an 83-year-old Somali man on May 4, 2010. According to the plea hearing, Thompson targeted the elderly man because he had a red beard, which caused Thompson to believe that the victim was a Muslim and an African immigrant.”

“TSA screener Matthew Carl Davids, is accused along with another off-duty air marshal of getting into a scuffle just after closing time on June 6 in the tavern-rich environs . . . Davids, 34, turned himself into authorities on Aug. 6 and posted bond the same day after Grand Rapids Police issued an arrest warrant for him. An alleged victim told Grand Rapids Police he was kicked in the groin, and reported that the marshals shoved a woman and then punched another man who tried to help her.”

“A Transportation Security Administration officer from Miami was arrested in Key West after reportedly grabbing a phone away from a bystander videotaping the officer and a friend . . . police were flagged down and reported seeing Milagros Casanas ’attacking another woman . . . who was trying to get away. Casanas continued while people tried to pull her off,’ according to a report prepared by Sgt. Joseph Tripp.

The arrest report indicates that Casanas ‘ripped the phone’ away from the other woman, who was not identified by the police. Police said they found the phone in Casanas’ back pocket during a search.

Casanas was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. In his report, Tripp noted that ‘we had the elements of a robbery,’ but changed the arrest charge after the early-hours consult. Casanas, 35, is a ‘lead transportation security officer’ at Miami International Airport, according to TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.”

“Two South Florida TSA agents were arrested Tuesday night after police say they went on a drunken rampage in which they fired a gun out of the window of a South Beach hotel room and threw furniture to the ground below.

Jeffrey Piccolella, 27, and Nicholas Puccio, 25, are charged with criminal mischief and using a firearm under the influence of alcohol or drugs thanks to the 11 p.m. incident at the Hotel Shelley at 808 Collins Avenue. According to Miami Beach Police, Piccolella confessed the Palm Beach County pair returned to their hotel room after consuming ‘several’ alcoholic beverages, at which point they decided to open the window and shoot Piccolella’s .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol.”

The fact that so many TSA workers and their associates have been implicated in violent criminal behavior is troubling, an issue raised by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in June of 2012.

Her committee released a report documenting crimes committed by TSA employees in an effort to demonstrate what it cited as failures to effectively screen employees the TSA hires.

Blackburn’s report stated:

“Despite the ever present threat of domestic terrorism, many Transportation Security Officers have proven time and time again that they are unqualified to serve as one of our nation’s last lines of defense.”

Speaking about the release of the report, Blackburn said:

“This report serves as a prime example as to why serious changes need to be made in the way TSA operates, specifically in their hiring practices of Transportation Security Officers. I believe that many of these problems stem from the fact that TSA does not consistently conduct criminal and credit background checks on new and existing employees.

“TSA needs to immediately remove themselves from the human resource business. This report details highly disturbing cases where pedophiles and child pornographers wearing federal law enforcement uniforms are not only patting down unsuspecting travelers, but in many cases stealing valuables from their bags. Enough is enough. It’s time for Congress to step in and demand accountability from Administrator Pistole.”

Indeed it is essential that the TSA become serious about checking the backgrounds, social associates, and off-duty conduct of its screeners. Obviously, the TSA isn’t the only workplace afflicted by violence in this country. But it’s an agency that’s supposed to be in the security business, that claims it background-checks its employees.

So far, these incidents have all taken place outside airport checkpoints. What happens when someone like the Cleveland shooter decides to take his vendetta inside an airport? With almost 30,000 gun deaths and injuries a year in this country, it’s not a far-fetched scenario. And it’s clearly a bigger threat than terrorism.

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