Jun. 10–A Las Vegas grandmother returning from a visit to Oklahoma is suing the Transportation Security Administration for allegedly strip-searching her even though she was precertified and had notified security about her hip implant.
Rhonda Mengert, whose age was not given, filed suit last Wednesday against the TSA and two unnamed employees for a search that she said was not only unwarranted but also humiliating enough to veer into the traumatic.
In the suit, she details being first body-scanned, then patted down, and then strip-searched, coerced into removing her underwear — which entailed displaying her private parts — so the TSA agents could inspect the feminine hygiene product she was wearing.
“I was told I needed to pull my pants and my underwear down to my knees and remove the item and show it to them for inspection,” Mengert told KTNV-TV. “It was horrific. It was horrible. It was degrading.”
The TSA was not available on Sunday but said it would not comment “due to pending litigation,” the agency told KTNV-TV in a statement. “TSA does not conduct strip searches and is committed to ensuring the security of travelers, while treating passengers of all ages with dignity and respect.”
Mengert’s complaint alleges the complete opposite. It all started as she traveled home from Oklahoma on May 12 after celebrating Mother’s Day with her family.
She held TSA PreCheck clearance, meaning she has passed a background check, with a commensurate reduction in screening requirements.
Mengert did the standard walk-through the metal detector, and her bionic hip set off an alarm, the complaint states.
Security personnel said she would have to submit to a body scan, which she did. But then she was told she needed a pat-down, the complaint said.
The search got more and more outrageous, Mengert said, and she became more and more upset.
She acceded to each request without resistance, the complaint states, and kept thinking that each one would be the end. But the agents just kept going, even after their preliminary check satisfied the TSA’s own criteria for requiring no further action.
“Mengert agreed to submit and was compliant, non-argumentative, and did nothing that a reasonable screener would consider suspicious or meriting of additional screening,” the complaint states.
Nevertheless, they persisted. It was during the pat-down that they encountered the feminine hygiene product.
“Literally millions of women in the United States wear such items on any given day, and therefore finding one during a TSA pat-down is not at all an uncommon occurrence,” the complaint notes.
Then they told her to drop her drawers.
“I was just stunned; stunned when they said that I had to do that,” Mengert told KLAS-TV. “It’s surreal… I was accosted. I had no personal ability to protect myself against them; they took it away.”
She acquiesced to that demand as well, removed the articles of clothing, got dressed again, and then asked to leave. They ignored her, according to the complaint — not once but three times.
Finally, the fourth time she asked, they let her go.
The TSA told KTNV that “travelers may be required to adjust clothing during the pat-down” and said they are always conducted by personnel of the same gender as the subject of the search.
Mengert’s suit alleges the TSA performed unreasonable search and seizure, which is prohibited under the Fourth Amendment; subjected her to false imprisonment by taking her into the private room and then proceeding allegedly in violation of their own rules; and intentional infliction of emotional distress, for the emotional impact, which is still reverberating.
“During the incident, Mengert experienced racing heart, shortness of breath, uncontrollable shaking, nausea and panic,” the complaint says. “Mengert experiences these same symptoms whenever thinking of the incident.”
The TSA agents, Mengert’s complaint says, “knew or should have known” that making her undress “would cause Mengert severe emotional distress.”
She is seeking unspecified damages. Mengert also wants the TSA to give renewed lessons to its employees about appropriate procedures, letting employees know “that they may not strip search passengers to clear apparent feminine hygiene products without the further heightened suspicion as required by law.”
In addition to legal fees, she is seeking damages for “loss of liberty, the unconstitutional search, and emotional distress,” and is requesting a jury trial.
“It’s gone too far,” she told KLAS. “It’s overreach. It’s too much.” ___
This article is written by Theresa Braine from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.