Government Settles ACLU's Racial Profiling Lawsuit Against TSA, Agrees to Alter Agency Procedures Nationwide

July 31, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WEST PALM BEACH-The American Civil Liberties Union today announced an unprecedented settlement in a racial profiling lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will-for the first time ever-require an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to substantially alter its policies and training procedures. 

Bob Rajcoomar

Under an ACLU settlement, TSA Head Admiral James Loy will apologize to Dr. Bob Rajcoomar, who was detained for hours because federal air marshals did not "like the way he looked."

""Today's settlement agreement is important because it has forced the TSA to take steps that should prevent air marshals from subjecting passengers to arrests solely because of race or ethnicity,"" said Stefan Presser, Legal Director of ACLU of Pennsylvania, who served as lead counsel in the lawsuit.

The changes came in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Bob Rajcoomar, a Lake Worth doctor who was detained for hours by federal air marshals because they did not ""like the way he looked."" 

In an order issued on July 29, 2003, Judge John P. Fullam outlined the three-part settlement in which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its TSA agreed to revise internal policies and training procedures to ensure there would be no repetition of the incident involving Dr. Rajcoomar. 

The settlement includes substantial undisclosed compensation to Dr. Rajcoomar and his wife Dorothy, and requires a written apology to Dr. Rajcoomar from Admiral James M. Loy, first Administrator for the TSA.

Last August, Dr. Rajcoomar became a victim of racial profiling after a flight on which air marshals subdued an unruly passenger and held other passengers at gunpoint for 30 minutes. Following the incident, Dr. Rajcoomar was arrested and detained for four hours after his plane landed at Philadelphia International Airport. 

""The settlement reached in the Rajcoomar case reinforces the principle that no agency of the government is above the law,"" said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. ""Even the actions of officials of Homeland Security are subject to the United States Constitution and to the review of an independent federal judiciary."" 

The initial complaint in this case was filed by the ACLU on April 14, 2003 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after the TSA failed to respond to an ACLU letter demanding an investigation into the reckless actions of air marshals.

Dr. Rajcoomar's disturbing ordeal began shortly after take off during a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia on August 31, 2002, when U.S. Air Marshals were called to subdue an apparently disoriented man seated in the coach section. The air marshals rushed at the unstable individual, handcuffed him, and then dragged him to the first-class section, where they placed him in the seat next to Dr. Rajcoomar, a U.S. citizen and Lt. Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and is of Indian descent. Dr. Rajcoomar asked to have his seat changed and the flight attendant obliged. For the remainder of the flight, air marshals held passengers at gunpoint and refused to allow anyone to get up, even to use the bathroom, despite the fact that the disoriented passenger had been shackled to his seat. 

The nightmare continued for Dr. Rajcoomar even after the flight landed. Air marshals handcuffed Dr. Rajcoomar without explanation and took him into the custody of Philadelphia police. His wife Dorothy, who was also on the flight, was given no information on what had happened to her husband. Because the authorities confiscated Dr. Rajcoomar's cellular phone, she had no way to contact him.

After four tense hours in detention, Dr. Rajcoomar was released. TSA personnel told him that he had been detained because air marshals on board the flight did not ""like the way he looked."" The agency's official explanation for Dr. Rajcoomar's treatment is that while on board, Dr. Rajcoomar had been observing the actions of the air marshals ""too closely."" 

The entire situation for Dr. Rajcoomar was enormously demoralizing, physically abusive and took a psychological toll, the ACLU said. ""This was racial profiling at its worst,"" Presser added. ""There is absolutely no legal or factual justification for why the air marshals treated Dr. Rajcoomar the way they did.""

In addition to Presser, the other attorneys litigating this case are: Jim Green, an attorney with the ACLU of Florida, Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida, Seth Kreimer of Philadelphia, and Reginald Shuford of the national ACLU in New York. 

The initial complaint in this case is available online at: http://www.aclufl.org/rajcoomarcomplaint.html

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