US Guyanese gets US$50,000 in lawsuit over ‘security’ harassment on aircraft
August 4, 2003
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An American based Guyanese has been awarded US$50,000 as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) of the United States, after Federal Air Marshals detained him illegally while he was a passenger on a US domestic flight.
Retired Army surgeon Bob Rajcoomar had filed a racial profiling lawsuit against the TSA and in addition to the monetary payments, sought changes to the training air marshals receive.
According to reports from CNS News, Rajcoomar and his wife were flying from Atlanta, Georgia to Philadelphia on August 3, 2002. Because the flight was over-booked, Rajcoomar was seated in first class while his wife sat in coach.
Approximately 30 minutes before landing in Philadelphia, two men entered the first class section of the plane dragging a man who were identified as an ‘unruly passenger’. The two men ordered another passenger to move and placed the man they dragged in next to Rajcoomar. The men, at that point, produced badges and identified themselves as Federal Air Marshals.
Fearing for his own safety, Rajcoomar asked the flight attendant to reseat him, which she did, according to CNS News.
While one of the marshals handcuffed the unruly passenger, the other began issuing orders over the plane’s public address system. “The other marshal took over the aircraft as if he was a commando and whisked out his gun and started pointing it at almost 200 Americans in the aircraft,” Rajcoomar said following the incident. He said that they started shouting to the passengers to stay quiet and not to move or take any pictures or they would go to jail. Rajcoomar said that for the remainder of the flight, the men had their guns pointed at the passengers, some of whom thought that the plane was being hijacked by the two marshals. When the plane landed at Philadelphia, the unruly passenger was removed and several police officers boarded the plane.
“Suddenly, behind me, out of nowhere somebody, one of these marshals, says, ‘head down, between your legs, hands up’, and before long I was in handcuffs,” he recounted. He said that he was then placed in a police van on the tarmac.
According to CNS News, Rajcoomar said that he was held for three to four hours without being allowed to contact his lawyer or his wife.
“Three hours [later], they told me that they didn’t like the way I looked and they didn’t like the way I looked at them”. The family-practice physician believes that his race was the sole reason for the marshals’ actions.
In an official statement, the TSA initially defended the actions of the marshals involved and denied that race had anything to do with the incident. “Our marshals are trained to respond to actions and behaviour, not skin tones,” the TSA statement said. “Based on our review of the incident we are confident that they did just that.”
In the lawsuit, Rajcoomar sought an apology, court- ordered changes to the marshals’ training and procedures and US$250,000 in compensatory damages. US District Judge John P. Fullam accepted the terms of the settlement agreed to by Rajcoomar and the TSA, which included a US$50,000 payment and a written apology from TSA director James Loy.
A TSA spokesman however said that the matter was not technically settled because the agreement had not been approved by the US Attorney’s Office and until that happens, the agency would be unable to make any public comment.