Suit against TSA agents dismissed after airport detention

Dec. 25, 2013 at 2:29 PM
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PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- A college student can't sue federal officers who detained him at the Philadelphia airport because he had Arabic flashcards in his carry-on bag, a judge ruled.

Nicholas George was traveling from Philly to California on his way to begin his senior year at Pomona College where in 2009. George was a double major in physics and Middle Eastern studies and had the flashcards in his backpack. They included generic words such as "nice," "sad" and "friendly" -- but they also contained cards reading "bomb," "terrorist" and "explosion."

George said Transportation Security Administration workers and two FBI agents detained him and subjected him to intense questioning for four hours during which time he was handcuffed and placed in a holding cell at the airport.

George had sought to file suit against the officers personally, in addition to a lawsuit filed against the federal government and the Philadelphia police department. A federal appeals court panel agreed officers were working within their job duties and cannot be sued as individuals, Philly.com reported Wednesday.

While noting George's treatment is at the "outer boundary" of what's permissible under the Fourth Amendment's unreasonable search and seizure clause, the judges said officers were using common sense in detaining someone with Arabic references to terrorism trying to board a plane.

"It is simply not reasonable to require TSA officials to turn a blind eye to someone trying to board an airplane carrying Arabic-English flashcards with words such as 'bomb,' 'to kill,' etc.," judges said in the ruling.

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