Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sippy Cup Spill Sparks Tiff at National Airport

TSA Uses Web to Counter Mother's Allegation of Improper Detention

Federal security officials took the unusual step yesterday of posting an incident report and security camera footage on their Web site to counter allegations that screeners and police officers at Reagan National Airport mistreated a mother and her toddler last week. At issue is whether Monica Emmerson, a former Secret Service officer and District resident, was improperly detained when she spilled water out of her child's sippy cup.

Emmerson's story: As she was going through security, a screener with the Transportation Security Administration asked if there was water in her 19-month-old son's sippy cup. For nearly a year, TSA has banned most fluids and gels from carry-on luggage because it is concerned about liquid explosives.

The screener then seized the cup, Adler related, causing Emmerson's son to wail. Emmerson was told that if she wanted to keep the cup, she should leave the security checkpoint, dump out the water and return.

As she turned to leave, Emmerson "accidentally spilled" the water, she claimed.
Emmerson reported that she was then threatened with arrest and ordered to clean up the water on the floor. She said that she was detained by seven police officers and screeners. "I was being held against my will," she wrote.

...Such stories of poor treatment at the hands of TSA screeners and police usually end there, with little public notice or outcry. But TSA officials, after being contacted by a Post reporter about the incident, took the unusual step of responding to the online criticism. They posted video clips taken by a security camera, along with an incident report that they believe rebuts Emmerson's allegations, on a portion of the TSA Web site called MythBusters.

...The video is clear on some points but not on others. Emmerson is seen being escorted out of the security checkpoint area by a screener. It then appears that she intentionally dumps water out of the sippy cup onto the floor and tries to slip back through security without going through the screening process, drawing the attention of a police officer.

She talks to the officer as she digs around in her son's stroller, apparently for her identification. The officer's supervisor arrives, and then Emmerson's fiance appears. Within a few minutes, Emmerson is on her hands and knees, drying up the puddle with a handful of paper towels. A TSA screener nearby makes sure nobody slips on the water and takes Emmerson's wet paper towels.

This from the Washington Post.

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