Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Possible extra FBI, DHS scrutiny for refusing bag search, says civil rights group
A person who refuses a bag search at transit police checkpoints in the Washington, DC, subway system and walks away could come under further observation by Federal Bureau of Investigation or Department of Homeland Security agents once outside the rail system, said a civil rights activist group.
The group, the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, posted transcripts from an early January meeting about the searches. The meeting, between Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) Riders Advisory Council (RAC), transit officials and the public, was a forum on concerns about the searches.
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition vehemently opposes them on Fourth Amendment grounds.
At the meeting, according to the coalition, the chief of the subway’s police force said a person who refuses a bag search and exits a station could face closer watch by other law enforcement agencies. “Well I can tell you without any uncertainty that that person would be observed. And what that means to you is different than what it means to me, but that person would be observed,” said Metro Transit Police Chief Taborn in the transcripts posted on the Web site.
During the Jan. 4 meeting, coalition members questioned Taborn in detail about how people who refused the search then exited the station might be handled, whether their names would be taken, or photographs made of them.
“No photographs taken, it may be simply an observation,” said Taborn in the transcript. “At some point in time, as we work with the FBI and as we work with the Department of Homeland Security, we establish why,” said.
The group also speculated in a Jan. 18 blog post that Metro Transit Police could enlist FBI and DHS agents in the extra scrutiny because they don’t have jurisdiction outside the rail system. “Actually, given that the screenings take place before people pass the turnstiles, bag search refusers might quickly leave the jurisdiction of Metro Transit Police, who may not (yet) have authority to pursue or investigate bag search refusers either overtly or covertly,” said coalition blogger Thomas Nephew the Web site. “That may be one reason TSA personnel are involved, and why Taborn mentioned FBI and Homeland Security…”