Massachusetts Pilot Cleared in Court Settlement; TSA Drops Accusations Based on Secret Evidence

August 7, 2006 12:00 am

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BOSTON, MA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts announced today that it has settled two cases brought on behalf of Massachusetts pilot Robert Gray who had been labeled a threat by the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) based on secret evidence.

“This has been the most traumatic experience of my life,” said Gray. “We live in a country whose very formation was based upon the ideals of freedom and fair treatment. To see this country’s government behave as it did was quite a shock.”

Gray added that he was lucky to have had the support of his wife, Joy, and his employer, Cape Air, along with his attorneys to see him through the ordeal. “I am happy that the government has had the courage to rectify its position, and I am relieved that this is finally over,” he said.

Gray, a lawful permanent resident of the United States originally from Northern Ireland, had been labeled by the government as a threat to aviation or national security in January, 2005 and rejected for training to fly planes larger than the commuter planes he had been flying for many years.

The rejection was based on secret allegations, secret sources, and secret evidence, which prevented Gray from challenging the accuracy of the accusations being made against him. In July 2005, the ACLU contested the TSA’s actions against Gray in two federal lawsuits charging that Gray had been denied due process of law and fair treatment by the government.

In announcing the settlement, ACLU volunteer attorneys Hugh Rappaport and Paul Holtzman of the Boston law firm Krokidas & Bluestein, reported that the TSA had agreed to a statement that based on current information, Gray was not a threat to national security or aviation. In addition, the government has agreed to provide specific contact people within TSA who will attempt to resolve any problems that may arise for Gray as a result of the earlier accusations the agency made against him.

“Mr. Gray’s ordeal demonstrates the danger of a system in which the government can destroy a person’s career on the basis of accusations that are as unreliable as they are secretive,” said Rappaport. “We are proud to have worked with the ACLU to help Mr. Gray establish his innocence and vindicate his constitutional right to challenge the groundless accusations against him.”

The attorneys filed two cases on Gray’s behalf for technical reasons involving challenges to administrative agency decisions, one in U.S. District Court in Boston and the other in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The cases, both entitled Gray v. Transportation Security Administration, have been on hold while settlement talks have been taking place. At one point before talks began, the government seemed to retaliate against Gray for having challenged the training denial through lawsuits by temporarily putting his name on the “No Fly” list which prevented him for a number of months from continuing to fly even the smaller planes he had been authorized to pilot and from flying as a passenger.

Sarah Wunsch, an ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney, noted: “Cape Air deserves a lot of credit for sticking with a good employee whom they knew well. Many people are not so fortunate and lose jobs, the ability to fly even as a passenger, and suffer other consequences, including the anxiety and distress from being branded a danger to public security without knowing what they are accused of.”

“Robert Gray was more fortunate than many,” Wunsch added, “because he was able to get the government to drop the still secret accusations against him. But when the government acts against people using information based on grudges, bias, suspicion, and fears, our safety isn’t protected while innocent people are injured.”

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