A Federal civil rights lawsuit recently filed in Philadephia describes a pattern of facts that combine the worst aspects of several previous incidents of TSA and local police collaboration in mistreatment of insufficiently subservient travelers.
Roger Vanderklok was falsely arrested at a TSA checkpoint at the PHL airport on January 26, 2013, “Because a TSA Supervisor did not like something Mr. Vanderklok said to him and because Philadelphia Police personnel failed to perform their duties and arrested him without probable cause.”
Mr. Vanderklok was on his way to Miami to run in a marathon, and had some “Power Bars” (essentially a cross between candy bars and granola bars marketed to athletes), in their original sealed and labeled packaging, and a sports watch with a heart rate sensor in his carry-on luggage.
You don’t have to take Mr. Vanderklok’s word for what happened, or for whether the TSA testified truthfully against him. You can judge for yourself. Compare the airport and/or TSA video included in this television news report (showing Mr. Vanderklok standing peacefully with his hands clasped in front of himself, at belt level, around his laptop computer) with the lies in the TSA supervisor’s testimony at Mr. Vanderklok’s trial, as reported in Mr. Vanderklok’s Federal complaint:
Under oath in Municipal Court, the TSA supervisor testified that his attention was directed to Mr. Vanderklok when Mr. Vanderklok became “irate” and started angrily waving his arms and hands in the air. The TSA supervisor demonstrated this for the Court. The TSA supervisor testified that he approached Mr. Vander clock, who eventually stated: “Let me tell you something — I’ll bring a bomb through here any day that I want … you’ll never find it.”…
The TSA supervisor testified that “the passenger [Mr. Vanderklok] put his finger in my face.” He went on to demonstrate for the court. He testified that Mr. Vanderklok’s finger came within six to eight inches of his face. He testified that Mr. Vanderklok moved his finger towards and away from his face approximately six times.
It’s clear from the video that Mr. Vanderklok made no such movements or gestures. It’s also clear that the Philadelphia police took him into custody as soon as they arrived, without further ado.
Needless to say, this TSA perjury to try to justify the unlawful arrest of a disfavored traveler reminds us of the (equally unsuccessful, fortunately) frame-up of Phil Mocek by Albuquerque police and TSA staff, just as Mr. Vanderklok’s Federal lawsuit reminds us of Mr. Mocek’s ongoing lawsuit against the ABQ police and TSA. (Oral argument on Mr. Mocek’s appeal is scheduled for March 17th in Denver.)
In his complaint, Mr. Vanderklok denies making the statement attributed to him, by the TSA, but also notes that, “The words reported – ‘anybody can bring a bomb and you wouldn’t even know it’ – would more appropriately be categorized as an insult to the TSA Supervisor than a threat to anyone’s safety.” We would add that, as a statement of fact (and not a threat), it is probably true: There are indeed many ways that anybody could bring a bomb into an airport, even through a TSA checkpoint, without the TSA knowing it.
In the space on the police report form for “Details of Arrest (What you did in the investigation or arrest; be precise as to details!)”, the arresting officer wrote:
TSA Supervisor Kieser called Police and stated Passenger was getting his carry on bag checked and said Anybody can bring a bomb and you wouldn’t even know it. Police took passenger to H.Q. for further investigation.
The police report gives no indication that the police made any attempt to investigate the allegations made by TSA staff, obtain or evaluate any of the other available evidence (of which the most obvious would have been the video recordings from “security” cameras and the possible statements of Mr. Vanderklok himself and/or other witnesses), or make any independent assessment as to whether the TSA allegations, even if true, provided evidence of any crime or provided probable cause for an arrest.
Mr. Vanderklok’s lawsuit was filed on January 23, 2015, the day after the TSA and Philadelphia police filed a settlement in the same Federal court in another lawsuit challenging a false arrest at the same airport. As part of that settlement agreement, the city of Philadelphia agreed not only to pay Nick George $25,000, but also to re-educate the Philadelphia police that they shouldn’t detain or arrest anyone solely because the TSA asks them to do so, but have a legal duty to use their independent judgement as to the existence (or not) of reasonable suspicion to justify detention or probable cause for an arrest.
(Mr. Vanderklok’s complaint includes pointed allusions to the facts in Mr. George’s case: “[Mr. Vanderklok] had … no Arabic flashcards. He had not visited countries known to sponsor terrorism and was not reading a book critical of the US government.”)
Mr. Vanderklok was held for almost 24 hours, and eventually charged with “Threatening the Placement of a Bomb” and “Terroristic Threats”. While in detention, he wasn’t allowed to call his wife, who was preparing to file a Missing Persons Report by the time he got out of jail. His complaint doesn’t mention whether he was allowed to try to contact a lawyer. But for most people who don’t already have a lawyer on retainer, the first step in obtaining legal counsel would be contacting a family member or friend. He had to post $40,000 bond and was subject to, among other conditions, restrictions on his travel while the criminal charges against him were pending.
Like Mr. Mocek, Mr. Vanderklok was acquitted of all of the charges brought against him. As with Mr. Mocek, he didn’t even have to put on a defense. Based on the prosecution evidence against Mr. Vanderklok, which consisted solely of the (perjured) testimony of TSA Supervisor Kieser, a municipal court judge found that, even if all of the allegations against Mr. Vanderklok were true, they did not constitute evidence of any crime.
Mr. Vanderklok’s attorney obtained the “security” camera video before the trial, and the prosecutor presumably could have (and may have) reviewed it before deciding what, if any, charges to bring. Since the judge found that none of the allegations against Mr. Vanderklok, even if true, amounted to a crime, the video wasn’t introduced in evidence at the criminal trial. Again as in the case of Mr. Mocek, it’s unclear whether or when the prosecutor, the police, and/or the TSA realized that there was video evidence conclusively showing that the TSA supervisor had perjured himself.