A St. Louis Airport Encounter

I have a few other posts in the queue, but saw this topic and wanted to get my thoughts posted before the topic became ad nauseam.

Last week, I discussed how the director of the Missouri State Highway Patrol retracted a controversial report issued by the Missouri Intelligence Analysis Center (MIAC) that attempted to link individuals who vote for libertarian candidates as commonly associated with militia groups.

Related to my thoughts on MIAC, on April 7, Blogger Shotgunwildatheart had an interesting post and video of a young man who had an encounter with Federal Transportation Security Administration officers. During the incident, the man was detained by TSA personnel at the St. Louis airport.

Officers were apparently suspicious of the $4,700 that the subject possessed in a carry-on bag, as well as his willingness to only answer questions that he believed to be “required to by law.” Evidently, the TSA officers released the man prior to having him speak with any other agencies.

The video is long, but the actual audio recording of the interrogation is from about 1:08 to 4:15:

Just a few thoughts:

--When an officer thinks something is wrong and bluffs an individual, he/she has to know when to stop pushing. If the TSA officer’s reason to detain was solely the $4,700 and there is no law against carrying that amount of cash onto an airplane, the appropriate action would be to make a record of the stop and release him. The officer can always continue the investigation later using all of the individual’s information or forward it to the appropriate agency.

--If you are going to bring a subject to another agency, you best be certain that it is a valid arrest/detainment. Dumping a bad (legal) stop in the lap of officers/agents with another agency is a quick way to have your credibility ruined—especially in future incidents.

--The TSA officer that becomes angry and discharges a few explicatives will be an easy target for management to reprimand. When an officer lets loose a verbal bomb or two his/her only defense with management is heat of the moment—-being angry because someone appears to be responding to questions evasively simply does not look professional in the eyes of the public or supervisors.

--Similar to the fellow arrested in Orlando that I featured previously as my Tuber of the Week post, I think this subject was very enthusiastic about being stopped by authorities. I picture the guy rehearsing his cell phone recording technique and other parts of the encounter as this certainly has given his organization and a huge boost in publicity.

The guy’s mention of the MIAC militia report in the news interview afterward seems opportunistic as I would be very surprised if TSA was even on the MIAC distribution list.

Unfortunately for police agencies, each incident with lots of media attention involving questionable behavior by enforcement personnel makes the job that much more difficult for other officers even when they are acting on firm legal footing.


J. J. in Phila said...

While carrying $4,700 is not illegal, it is suspicious. We saw something similar in the Elliot Spitzer case, where the first things noticed were unusual and suspect wire transfers.

I would use this analogy. I lock my keys out of my house. I break a window to get in, a perfectly legal act. As I'm breaking it, the Phila Police car rolls past. I'd expect to be stopped and explain what was happening.

While the officer's conduct may have been improper at some point, I can understand why carrying $4,700 would arouse the officers attention and suspicion.

mappchik said...

I was a bit confused by this. If the TSA had questions about this passenger, shouldn't he have been turned over to the authorities immediately? Bierfeldt didn't have any problems with verifying his identity, address, age, destination, all of the things we hand are expected to hand over before boarding a plane.

From what I understood, the money was in a box with ticket and book receipts, and Bierfeldt was also carrying Campaign for Liberty literature, bumper stickers and donation forms. Using a bit of logic during the bag search should have cleared that up, and I never heard him objecting to them having looked at his carry-ons.

He really seemed to be pushing for an answer as to whether or not they had the authority for the interrogation. According to the judge, the $4700 wasn't a TSA issue. Which I guess explains why they kept threatening him with FBI and DEA. Bierfeldt didn't even raise objections at being walked down to the police office, just wanted to make sure he had no other choice.

Glad you got a chance to see this - I wondered what take you'd have on the encounter, as someone in law enforcement.

mappchik said...

After being pulled for secondary screening my last few trips, I'm getting to the point where I want to ask the TSA agents what's "required by law" before the wanding and bag dissection. If I were also subjected to a bunch of question, I'd be likely to hit "record" on my iPhone, too.