TSA accused my father of terrorism, TSA attorney may be breaking the law with threats and coercion


Any advice would be appreciated! Before you respond with “get an attorney”, please note that I’ve called the State Bar Association, as well as local Bar associations for several local cities. no one has been able to make any referrals, nor even suggest what kind of attorney I should be looking for. Apparently the TSA has so many special rules and regulations that it isn’t just federal administrative law – it’s something else, yet no one seems to know what.

Long story short: My father was flying from Pittsburgh (where he lives) to San Francisco (where I live) for a visit last January. We’re both photographers, and we were scheduled to do a photo shoot. TSA mistook something in his checked bag for a bomb (it wasn’t), so they accused him of attempting to bring a “replica explosive device” in his checked luggage. (Yes, checked. It wasn’t in his carry-on.)

The State of Pennsylvania charged him with a felony (back in January, and an attorney is already on that case), but TSA just notified us that they’re also imposing sanctions on him completely separate from the state’s felony charge. The TSA has assessed a “civil penalty” (sort of like a ticket, yet with much different legal proceedings and ramifications) of $1,200. However, they’re making us the “special offer” that if we pay now, they’ll give us a spectacular 50% off. But if we question it or take it to court, they’ll impose the entire $1,200.

When I spoken with the TSA attorney on my father’s behalf, and the attorney made more threats. He threatened to add more charges if we don’t just pay immediately, and has told us that we have no recourse. Furthermore, he tried to force us into making decisions about the case before federal law requires us to, and threatened to withdraw the 50% offer made in the original notice of violation. Finally, he lied several times about the contents of the police report, thinking I wouldn’t be able to acquire a copy before the deadline. When I received the police report two days later, I discovered that he literally made things up while we were on the phone, making it sound worse that it actually was. I am concerned that what he has done has crossed the line into “coercion” territory, possibly worse. If so, I need to find out a] if anything can be done to (at the least) prevent further legal abuse, and b] if we can have the TSA’s process put on hold while the issue is being sorted out. As it currently stands, we have until July 5 to respond. If I can’t come up with a legal response by then, our options become limited to either paying the fine without argument, or risking more than ten times that fine if it goes to a formal hearing, plus the possibility of additional action by the TSA.

By the way: yes, I can prove all of my previous claims about the attorney’s conduct.

Can anyone suggest who I might contact to follow up on this? The ACLU has not been very responsive, as it’s not a simple case of constitutional issues. The EFF said it didn’t concern “electronic” matters (and to be fair, it doesn’t), but made several other recommendations: The National Lawyers Guild and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Unfortunately, neither one has responded to my inquiries. I’m running out of ideas and don’t know where to turn. Does anyone know of any legal resources for dealing with the TSA (or government agencies in general), free or paid? Can anyone suggest an attorney who might be able to do an initial consultation to determine if any laws have actually been broken by the TSA and, if so, be able to take on the case quickly? We’re not destitute (though the TSA’s detainment, arrest, and incarceration of my father has resulted in his having to resign from his job to protect his pension, and sell everything he owned to pay his bills), but for obvious reasons, we want to be careful about what direction we go in and who helps us get there.

Thank you for any suggestions or advice you can provide! My father is 62 years old, has five children, holds two master’s degrees, is an award-winning and internationally-recognized artist, and has worked for the state of Pennsylvania for more than a decade until this event. He is NOT a terrorist. He had NO intention of scaring or threatening anyone, and has had his life ruined over this incident. It’s already a catastrophe. At this point, we’re just trying to limit the damage that’s being done to him.

Your upvotes would also be appreciated in addition to your comments. The sole purpose of this account is to get the word out on this issue, and ask for opinions where relevant. Thanks in advance for both!

Edit: Unfortunately, releasing this to the media, intentional or otherwise, would be a mistake at this time. My father’s attorney (for the associated criminal case; not the TSA issue) is attempting to negotiate with the DA. Media attention will make such negotiations impossible, and must be avoided until the negotiations break down.

As an aside, if anyone happens to know of any specific instances in which TSA found something that was actually intended to look like a weapon or explosive device, but then allowed the passenger to surrender the item and travel without it. Here is an example, though not the best because charges are still pending. I’ve seen several in which no charges were filed, and the traveler was allowed to board their flight with no further trouble. This may help us to establish a general lack of consistency and policy.

Edit #2: Holy cow, that’s a lot of replies. I will respond as I’m able during the day, but will probably have to get back to most of you after work this evening. Thank you!

Why I’m not identifying the object in question: I apparently need to clarify something: I am not identifying the specific object in question because that can have several effects:

  1. It can serve to identify my father.
  2. It can serve to incriminate my father.

While I understand that some Redditors will insist that my failure to provide full disclosure must mean that I am a troll, I assure you that this is not the case. If you feel that you must downvote me because I’m not treating you as an attorney (for whom there is a certain privilege of confidentiality), that is your choice. Suffice it to say that the object was a container, that it was packed in his checked bag, and that it was empty. The TSA has seen images of improvised explosive devices that looked similar to this container, so were suspicious. I’m not faulting them for my suspicion; merely their conduct after they discovered it was harmless, and their conduct while we have been communicating. I am not giving out more detail than this because it could compromise my father’s case. I recognize that this answer will not be enough for some people, and for that I am sorry. But that is the way it must be until negotiations between my father’s attorney and the DA come to a close, probably around beginning to mid-July.

Regarding the case as a whole, I’d like to make an analogy on this matter, in case others haven’t already picked up on it: The TSA has said “You us us money. Pay now or it goes to court and will be a lot more. But if you pay now, just call our clerks and arrange for a lesser fee.” Remind you of anyone? RIAA/MPAA, perhaps, with their lawsuit clearinghouse? Furthermore, the TSA’s attorney has threatened to withdraw the original notice of violation and file a much more serious one, multiplying the cost by more than ten times if we don’t pay now. That’s where we feel perhaps he has broken the law, i.e. professional misconduct and/or coercion.

Edit #3: To clarify exactly what happened and why the TSA is calling this a “replica”, the TSA saw something on initial screening that led them to believe it might be an IED. Subsequent screening revealed that it was completely harmless, and contained no parts that would make an IED more likely. So they questioned my father to see if he had a legitimate reason for bringing it. He did, but the damage was done, and TSA had already freaked out. The important issue regarding the “legitimacy” of the replica claim is this: many objects can be mistaken for an IED. It happens almost daily. What determines whether or not it is classified as a “replica” is what is revealed upon examination of the device, and upon questioning the traveler. Were there any wires or buttons? (No, and this question was asked by a TSA agent when we began gathering evidence.) Where there any suspicious contents? (No, and also asked by TSA.) Why did you bring the object? (For a photo shoot, also asked by TSA.) What is it used for? (As a prop – not a prop bomb, also asked by TSA.) Here is an example of someone who didn’t even know what something was (his wife had packed it), and was allowed to board his flight. This sort of thing happens quite often. Here is another example. Yes, at first glance, it can look like an IED/improvised grenade/pipe bomb/whatever. Was it intended to? No. Can we demonstrate this? Yes. Did we? Yes. Are they going after us anyway? Absolutely.


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