Tags: tsa | assault | denver | pat-down

Colo. Woman Accuses TSA Agent of Sexual Assault

Thursday, 16 Jan 2014 11:10 AM

By Lisa Barron

Denver police have launched a criminal investigation into a complaint from a Colorado woman who says a pat-down she received from a Transportation Security Administration officer at Denver International Airport amounted to sexual assault.

Jamelyn Steenhoek, 39, told police she was frisked by a TSA agent on Dec. 26 while accompanying her 13-year-old daughter to a gate to catch a flight to Philadelphia, reports CBS4.

"I feel like someone who works for a powerful agency that we are afraid of used their power to violate me sexually — to put me in my place," Steenhoek, who works for a county social services agency and was not herself flying that day, told the station.

She said she was stopped after an alarm sounded when she went through a checkpoint, and believes it was triggered by jewels sewn into the pocket of her jeans. She then submitted to a swab of her hands and was told she tested positive for explosives.

Although she told agents the positive result was probably due to the fact that she had pumped gas into her car that day, a female officer said she would have to do a search and ushered her into a small private room.

Steenhoek recalled trying to hurry the agent so her daughter would not be late for the flight. "At that point she did a pretty invasive search. They are just areas of the body I'm not comfortable being touched in. On the outside of my pants, she cupped my crotch. I was uncomfortable with that," she told CBS4.

"The part of the search that bothered most was the breast search. You could tell it shouldn't take that much groping. To me it was as extensive as an exam from my physician—full touching and grabbing in the front. I felt uncomfortable, I felt violated," she said.

After eventually being released, Steenhoek went a few days later to the Denver police and filed a complaint, describing the incident as akin to being "sexually assaulted."

Denver police spokesperson Sonny Jackson told CBS4 there is now an active investigation. "We take all complaints seriously and we are on this case as well," Jackson said. "We'll present it to the district attorney and see if there's enough to charge."

Carrie Harmon, a spokesperson for the TSA at the Denver airport, reportedly issued a statement defending the agent, saying, "The agency cannot comment on an ongoing law enforcement investigation, but is confident the facts will support our officer's adherence to proper pat-down procedures."

Those procedures could include saying "please" and "thank you" if Rep. Gerry Connolly has his way. The Virginia Democrat warned at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday that if the TSA did not improve its manners, he would introduce legislation requiring it,
reports the New York Daily News.

Describing a recent trip to Las Vegas, Connolly said, "I counted — in one encounter — 20 barked orders. 'Take that off. Move over there. Back up. Put your hands up. Take your shoes off.' Not once was the word 'please' used.I don’t understand how hard it is to teach people: make sure you use the words 'please' and 'thank you' when you’re interacting with our public."

"I would agree," replied TSA official Kelly Hoggan, noting that officers receive customer service training.

Connolly told Hoggan to step it up or he would draft a bill mandating better service. “I know I won’t have any resistance from the other side of the aisle on that one,” he said.

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