94-year-old upset by TSA pat down

Marian Peterson shows how she was made to stand during a search at RDU (Image courtesy WJXX)
July 14, 2011 1:36:59 PM PDT
A 94-year-old wheelchair-bound Florida woman says a search she went through at Raleigh/Durham International Airport went too far.

Marian Peterson said it happened July 6 as she went through a TSA security checkpoint before boarding a flight home.

Peterson said she was selected for extra screening. First, security officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her stand in a full body scanner. Then, she was given a physical pat down.

"They took me to one side and they patted me down, and they made me stand for, with my arms out, for over 10 minutes," she said. "I was beginning to feel that I wasn't going to be able to continue to stand, I was going to fall down or something."

"I asked, I said why are you doing this, and the woman was very polite and said 'I don't know, maybe the scanner detected something or maybe she moved,'" recalled Peterson's daughter Marian Malone.

Peterson's family said it's not just the length of the search they object to, it's the way it was done.

"She said it would be in-depth. She started the putdown, and at that point, she asked mom to spread her legs. She stood there with her legs spread and she checked every place thoroughly," said Malone.

"They groped her. All of her body. Her crotch, her breasts. And everything else," said son Joe Peterson.

The Petersons said the search seemed unnecessary given Marian's obvious age.

"I didn't think I was much of a threat to anybody," said Marian Peterson.

"My sister had even asked them, you know, what did she do? Why are we doing this? What's going on here," said Joe Peterson.

Contacted by ABC11's Jacksonville, FL sister station, a Transportation Security Administration spokesperson issued the following statement:

"While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner."

But the Petersons say they don't feel the search was handled in a sensitive manner and that while they think security at airports is very important, they should be sensitive to certain passengers.

"I thought it was totally uncalled for. I think if it was absolutely necessary, that they should've taken her in a private area, and I think it was uncalled for," said Malone. "It just was not being thoughtful for an elderly person."

TSA is expected to begin a pilot program this fall that will try more "risk based" screening. It will start with just Delta and American at four U.S. airports. Raleigh is not included.

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