[EDIT FOR CORRECTION: 28-DECEMEMBER-2010 – 2:46PM EST – Original report stated Ms. Hirschkind refused the TSA AIT scanners, however AUS does not presently have AIT scanners]
Last Wednesday, the 22nd of December, a disturbing news story about a woman with a pace maker, who is a rape survivor, being knocked to the ground, handcuffed, dragged 25 yards, arrested and banned from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) after she alarmed the walk through metal detector, then refused the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pat down, was first reported on by the TV news station KVUE in Austin, Texas.
The story, which has now been recounted by news outlets around the world, details an incident involving Claire Hirschkind, the TSA and Austin Police Department. KVUE, the Associated Press and others have written that Ms. Hirschkind arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to catch a flight out to California to spend Christmas with her friends when she encountered a nightmare scenario, after stating she has ‘equivalent of a pacemaker’ implanted in her, following her alarming at the walk through metal detector.
Ms. Hirschkind has stated to media outlets that she was escorted by a female TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) and three Austin Police Officers, then informed she would be patted down. Ms. Hirschkind claims she turned to the police officer and said ‘I have given no due cause to give up my constitutional rights. You can wand me,’” with the TSO responding ‘No, you have to do this.” Ms. Hirschkind then claims she agreed to the pat down under one condition, saying “I told them, ‘No, I’m not going to have my breasts felt‘ with the TSO responding ‘Yes you are.”
Ms. Hirschkind claims that at the time she refused the pat down “the police actually pushed me to the floor, (and) handcuffed me. I was crying by then. They drug me 25 yards across the floor in front of the whole security.”
Since there are multiple sides to every story, I have spent the past few days working to track down factual information, gather information from people in Austin, TSA incident reports and most importantly … from those who have seen the security footage. When all is said and done … security footage tells a vastly different story from Ms. Hirschkind’s story.
Oddities in Ms. Hirschkind’s story begin to appear early on in her encounter with the TSA, such as claiming that she was escorted by a TSO and three Austin Police Officers, in fact at the point when Ms. Hirschkind was escorted to a pat down area there were not three police officers present. Law enforcement became involved after Ms. Hirschkind refused to be patted down three times. Ms. Hirschkind was informed of pat down procedures and that they were mandatory by a TSO, then by a Supervisor TSO (STSO), then by a TSA Checkpoint Manager. At this time it appears that Ms. Hirschkind was informed that she could either be patted down, or she was free to leave the airport with an escort from the Austin Police Department.
Following Ms. Hirschkind’s third refusal of a pat down, the TSA requested a police officer to escort her from the airside security checkpoint area of the airport back to the pre-security side. It appears that the Austin Police Officer informed Ms. Hirschkind for a fourth time that TSA pat downs are not optional, and if she wishes to catch her flight she needs to be patted down.
Following Ms. Hirschkind’s initial interaction with the Police Officer, she became quite belligerent and threw herself to the ground, not an officer knocking her to the ground as she reports. Once on the ground additional Police Officers arrived at the TSA checkpoint to assist the initial officer, at which time Ms. Hirschkind was handcuffed, placed in a wheel chair and removed from TSA checkpoint … not dragged as reported by Ms. Hirschkind.
Once Ms. Hirschkind was removed, by wheelchair to the lower level of the airport, it would seem police asked her if there was anyone available to pick her up due to the questioning of her potential mental status. At this time Ms. Hirschkind appears to have had a seizure, the Police called for an ambulance and Ms. Hirschkind was removed from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport by ambulance.
…as for Ms. Hirschkind being arrested … no charges have been filed against her by the Austin Police Department or Transportation Security Administration.
Something about this story didn’t sit right with me from the moment I first read KVUE’s report … and now I know why it didn’t seem right … because the news story left out significant pieces of information.
Folks … if you are going to embellish on an encounter with the TSA remember this … there are cameras nearly everywhere I an airport, and raw security camera footage doesn’t take sides.