DENVER – The Transportation Security Administration has fired two screening agents following an investigation into allegations they conspired to target certain passengers for extra screening with the intended purpose of groping men one of the agents found attractive.
The TSA contacted the Denver police sex crimes unit in mid-March to report they had received an anonymous tip on November 18, 2014. A screener had confessed that he "gropes males who come through the screening area."
According to a police report, the anonymous tipster also reported to the TSA that when that screener would see an attractive man in line, he would alert another TSA screener to indicate to the computer that the passenger was female instead. That triggered the scanner to alert the screeners of an anomaly that requires a physical pat down of the passenger's genital area.
The TSA told DPD they conducted an interview and observed this happen on February 9. The TSA investigator told DPD investigators he personally observed the conspiracy in action.
In the DPD report, the investigator describes how he watched the agent "give a signal to another screener," the one in charge of the screening machine. The investigator watched the signaled screener enter the scanner and press the button for female. Then, the investigator reported to DPD that he observed the first screener "conduct a pat down of the passenger's front groin and buttocks area with the palms of his hands, which is contradictory to TSA searching policy."
The TSA told DPD that they confronted the screener who the investigator had witnessed changing the machine. She admitted to changing the machine to female for male passengers for the other screener "at least 10 other times." Both screeners were terminated.
DPD brought the case to the Denver district attorney, who declined to file an unlawful sexual conduct charge because not victims have been identified.
The case is still being reviewed for other possible charges.
The TSA issued the following statement: "These alleged acts are egregious and intolerable. TSA has removed the two officers from the agency."
The statement goes on to say, "All allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated by the agency. And when substantiated, employees are held accountable."
What can you do if a TSA screener went too far?
TSA expert and Metro State professor Jeff Price says many people may be afraid to speak up when they witness something inappropriate at a TSA checkpoint.
"There is a fear. There's a real fear out there that if I say something, are they going to put me on the no fly list?" Price said.
According to Price, there isn't really a standard procedure for a TSA pat down. The agency requires that the screener be the same gender as the passenger and if deeper screening is necessary, the agent is instructed to take the passenger into a private room with another agent present.
"It's typically the back of the hand doing the pat down. But if they find something they can't resolve with the back of the hand, then they're going to use more intrusive measures," he said.
Price says if something feels inappropriate, it generally is.
"If there's a long period of time somebody's staying in the same place for a while, definitely if it's in the private areas, that's when you need to start wondering if something's going on," he said.
You have the right to tell the agent to stop at any point during a pat down and you can ask to see a supervisor to try to get whatever issue it is resolved.
To File a TSA Complaint: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-filing-complaint
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