Man harassed, detained by TSA at Boston Logan

A young man who goes by the name Sai — yes, that’s his full name — was abused by TSA agents at Boston Logan International Airport on January 21st. And he’s not about to take it lying down.

Sai appears to be a whip-smart citizen and self-taught student of law who knows his rights and knows when they’ve been violated. This is Sai’s Google Plus page. This is his CV.

He has posted publicly as a Google doc the timeline of events during his journey on January 21st, along with documentation and tons of legal citations. I’ll excerpt a few bits from the lengthy account. I have bolded certain passages. You should know that Sai has a neurological disorder that makes speaking difficult. He can, however, use sign language and write. He travels with a doctor’s note explaining his disability (though we know how the TSA treats those):

On Monday, 21 January 2013, I was heading for American Airlines flight 1551 from Boston Logan (where I was visiting) to San Francisco (where I live), and passed through the Transportation Security Agency (“TSA”) checkpoint guarding gates B30-36.

During my screening at that checkpoint, the TSA, and two TSA supervisors individually — Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (“STSO”) Tricia Tonge-Riley (ID #s 110944 / 12311562) and STSO Kukula (“the agents”) — violated my rights in multiple ways, which I detail below. The TSA agents can be reached via the airport, whose contact information is 1 800 23 LOGAN; 1 Harborside Dr, Boston, MA 02128.

This complaint is written informally and without the assistance of counsel. My recollection of events listed below may not be perfect; I may later recall substantive details or mistakes, and reserve the right to improve it later.

After Sai’s bags went through the x-ray machine, the TSA agents flagged him for some reason.

First, the agents demanded to see my identification and boarding pass. They protested and physically intervened when I went to get them out of my jacket.

The agents were extremely rude about my inability to speak, and refused to engage with my attempts to communicate with them asking the reason and motivation of their search, to explain items they asked about (such as my ocarina), etc.

Then, rather than searching for weapons or explosives, the agents’ search concentrated on reading through my papers (including personal notes, writings, books, bank statements, identification, ticket stubs, confidential job related documents, private medical information cards, etc) and my medications[2].The agents proceeded to interrogate me about all of these items — asking me about my travel history and plans, my name, my medical issues, my residence and work history, affiliations, etc.

The agents extracted my medical information card (Exhibit B) from my wallet, read it, and made spoken comments about its content during their search of my papers. The medical information card clearly states I have a medical need for constant access to my medication, liquids, food, computer, paper, and pen. Even after having read it, they continued to deny me access to those items, without any legitimate security reason to do so.

I told the agents that I objected to their questions and indeed to the entire illegal search. Because the agents refused to communicate with me, I repeatedly and clearly asked for access to my own pen and paper so that I would be able to write rather than having to rely on signing and mouthing that they refused to acknowledge as speech. The agents repeatedly denied and physically prevented me from doing so.

Sai is correct that the TSA has no right to search for or question you about anything other than weapons, explosives, and incendiaries (WEI). This fact has been established in court. But we’ve been over this a dozen times and people still don’t get it. And the TSA continues to break the law. As they did in this case:

Eventually, one of the agents did give me access to my pen and paper. I wrote (Exhibit D): “The law limits the TSA’s jurisdiction to ‘search no more extensive nor intrusive than necessary to detect the presence of weapons or explosives’[3]. You are violating the law. What exactly are you looking for?”

The agents read it, scoffed, and then immediately took away my paper and thereafter physically prevented me from accessing paper again[4].

The agents then continued thoroughly searching through my papers and medications, repeatedly stopping to read the contents thereof.

But this harassment — illegal harassment — wasn’t enough for the blue-shirted goons. No. They called the police:

The agents then called MA Police Officer Coleman (badge #356, airport ID #315287) to investigate these alleged issues with my medication and ID, and gave them to him. When Coleman arrived, a third TSA agent provided me with a pad of paper with which to communicate; my communication with Coleman was entirely in writing on my side (Exhibit E).

Coleman proceeded to question me regarding my travel history, the reasons for my presence in Boston, whether I was travelling with others, my residence history, etc. When he asked whether I had previously been arrested, I wrote “I don’t consent to any interrogation. I am not under arrest.” He responded that we were “merely having a friendly conversation”, to which I responded by pointing again at my denial of consent.

Bravo to Sai for refusing to cooperate with the cop. You are not required to answer a police officer’s questions, and certainly not to submit to a search, without probable cause. The cop was harassing him just as much as the TSA agents were.

The detention continued:

Contrary to Coleman’s implicit claim that this was merely a voluntary encounter, rather than a detention, Coleman retained possession of my passport, medication, and boarding pass, and I clearly was not free to leave. He then went off to the side, and asked over his radio whether I had outstanding warrants, as well as other things I couldn’t hear.[5]

At some point during this later stage of events, someone (I believe one of the two named TSA agents) made copies of some of my documents, including my boarding pass and some other documents I couldn’t easily identify.

TSA agents don’t have the right to photocopy your personal papers. They don’t have the right to look through your personal papers, though as I have documented, they do it all the time.

Sai was eventually let go — after an hour — and barely made his flight. His neurological condition was also aggravated by this harassment. As I said, you can read his full account on-line.

For every Sai — or Shoshana Hebshi — who has a public forum, there are how many hundreds or thousands who don’t? Use your noggin. This is going on every day, all over the country. But most people don’t have a public forum or access to a reporter to tell their stories.

I’m going to ask again what I’ve asked a thousand times: those of you who continue to deny the abuse the TSA routinely metes out, who hide behind the pathetic and cowardly excuse of “anything for safety,” even when it demonstrably isn’t for safety, and demonstrably again, and again, those of you who don’t think the Bill of Rights is worth a damn, when are you going to wake up?