RALEIGH-DURHAM, N.C. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a North Carolina woman who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after she stripped down to her underwear at a Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) checkpoint to protest the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) whole body imaging scanners. Police arrested and charged Siobhán Cooke with disorderly conduct as a result of her act of protest at RDU on June 2, 2011. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute will represent Cooke at her August 24 court appearance.
“The First Amendment not only assures citizens of the right to express themselves but also to voice their disagreement with the government,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “To classify Siobhán Cooke’s singular act of protest as criminal disorderly conduct is to reject everything the First Amendment stands for and the long history of jurisprudence that goes along with it. TSA agents and police should have known better.”
On June 2, 2011, Siobhán Cooke arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) with her mother and a companion to board a flight to Portland, Ore., as part of a celebration of her mother’s 70th birthday. Upon approaching the RDU security checkpoint, Cooke observed that TSA agents were directing passengers to whole body imaging scanners. Unwilling to be subjected to a virtual strip search by government agents and determined to protest the use of the scanners, which Cooke believes is a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights, Cooke proceeded to strip down to her underwear. Placing her t-shirt and jeans on a conveyer belt for scanning along with the baggage she was carrying, Cooke then approached the TSA agent wearing only a bra and panties, and voiced her desire to opt out of the scanner. Cooke also added that it should be clear that she posed no threat because there was nowhere for her to hide anything. A TSA supervisor was then called, who allegedly asked Cooke if she was crazy and told another agent to gather Cooke’s clothes from the conveyer and return them to Cooke. Cooke, who by then had put her outer clothes back on, explained that she objected to the invasive searches employed by the TSA. After informing Cooke that her actions were distracting, the TSA supervisor called local police to the scene and took Cooke to a small room near the checkpoint. When a police officer arrived, he questioned Cooke in the room for several minutes and then issued her a citation for violating a North Carolina statute prohibiting disorderly conduct.
The Rutherford Institute is presently litigating a number of cases challenging the constitutionality of enhanced TSA security measures. In 2010, Institute attorneys filed lawsuits asserting that the TSA’s policy of using whole body imaging scanners and/or enhanced patdowns of passengers violates the Fourth Amendment rights of airline pilots and passengers. In March 2011, Institute attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a Virginia college student who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he appeared at an airport security checkpoint in his running shorts with the text of the Fourth Amendment written on his chest. He was eventually exonerated.