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Shirtless TSA Protester Sues Over His Arrest

September 29, 2011
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A 21-year-old man who took off his shirt during an airport screening, revealing an abbreviated version of the Fourth Amendment printed on his body, saw a judge throw out most of his lawsuit. However, his free-speech claim against the screening officers will go forward to trial.

That legal ruling—in the case of what even his own attorneys are calling the “airport stripper”—came a month ago. Somehow, we missed the news until now.

The Homeland Security News Wire reports that Aaron Tobey of Charlottesville, Virginia, who at the time was an architecture student, was protesting the stepped-up screening measures the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) put into place last year. The security boost caused considerable uproar among travelers, some of whom feared radiation exposure from new full-body scanners and some of whom feared the alternative, an “enhanced” pat down.

After Tobey took off his shirt last December at Richmond (Virginia) International Airport, exposing his Fourth Amendment message, he successfully passed through the screening, according to his lawsuit. He says he then was arrested, handcuffed, questioned for 90 minutes, and cited for disorderly conduct.

The Henrico County Commonwealth’s attorney eventually dropped the charge. But Tobey sued, backed by The Rutherford Institute (a civil liberties legal services group; it’s sort of a conservative version of the American Civil Liberties Union, though both the Institute and the ACLU would probably be horrified at the comparison).

The lawsuit charged Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, TSA Administrator John Pistole, and the Capital Region Airport Commission with false imprisonment and violations of the First (free speech) and Fourth (unreasonable search and seizure) amendments.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson dismissed those claims, but he did retain Tobey’s free-speech claim against the TSA screening officers who summoned police. Hudson said that, absent other evidence so far, he had to accept Tobey’s claims that he had complied with all of the orders of the transportation security officers (TSOs). The judge continued:

The question, then is whether the TSOs in fact radioed for assistance because of the message Plaintiff sought to convey, as opposed to Plaintiff’s admittedly bizarre behavior or because of some other reasonable restriction on First Amendment activity in the security screening area.

Hudson has set a tentative trial date of January 18, 2012. We can’t wait to see what Tobey wears to court.

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