Tampa Buccaneers Fans Free from Mass Random Searches

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
July 28, 2006 12:00 am

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TAMPA, FL — The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today announced that a federal judge has blocked mass pat-down searches at Buccaneer games, stating that the public “has a compelling interest in preserving the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”

The court order follows a similar injunction issued by a state court judge in October of last year and prohibits mass random searches of Tampa Buccaneers patrons without individualized suspicion. In both rulings, the courts held that the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches such as those being conducted at Raymond James Stadium, which is owned and operated by the Tampa Sports Authority.

“This case is important because it involves being forced to give up a very real liberty in the name of generalized fear,” said Rebecca Harrison Steele, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s West Central office. “The government does not have a blank check to suspend the constitutional rights of Americans. Across-the-board pat-downs are a violation of each and every person’s rights, and we are happy that has been upheld by the court”

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James Judge Whittemore wrote, “A generalized fear of terrorism should not diminish the fundamental Fourth Amendment protections envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Our Constitution requires more”

Judge Whittemore also pointed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Bourgeois v. Peters: “While the threat of terrorism is omnipresent, we cannot use it as the basis for restricting the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protections in any large gathering of people. We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the War on Terror is over, because the War on Terror is unlikely ever to be truly over. September 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country”

The suspicionless pat-downs at Buccaneers games came as a direct result of the National Football League’s (NFL) policy requiring security personnel to physically pat-down every person entering the stadium during football games. But, as the ACLU pointed out, the government can’t search individuals without individualized suspicion.

The case was brought by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of Gordon Johnston, a teacher and Buccaneers fan who objected to the violation of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.

Harrison Steele and Tampa ACLU cooperating attorney John Goldsmith of the law firm of Trenam Kemker are lead attorneys for the case. They are assisted by ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall and Trenam Kemker lawyer Amy Drushal.

Today’s injunction is online at:

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