police unlawfully detained an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
official who was stopped by police and questioned at Logan
International Airport in 2003, a federal jury ruled.
But the U.S. District Court panel last Friday rejected King Downing’s assertion that a screening technique relying on suspicious behavior to identify potential terrorists encourages racial profiling.
Downing sued the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, and the Massachusetts State Police, alleging they violated his constitutional right against unreasonable search.
Downing, who is black and wears a short beard, said he was stopped on Oct. 16, 2003, by a state trooper and asked to show identification after he left the gate area and made a phone call in the terminal.
When he declined, Downing said, he was told to leave the airport, but was then stopped again. He was surrounded by four state troopers and told that he was under arrest for failing to produce identification.
Downing, an attorney who serves as national coordinator of the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, said after he agreed to show his driver’s license, the troopers asked to see his airline ticket. He was then allowed to leave and no charges were filed.
“This case sends a message to blacks, and to all people, to stand up for their rights,” said Downing, a Harvard graduate. He alleged in the lawsuit that the behavioral screening system — called the Passenger Assessment Screening System — encouraged racial profiling and should be deemed unconstitutional.
In 2002, about a year after terrorists launched the Sept. 11 attacks by hijacking two planes from Logan, the airport began the assessment program, which allows police to question passengers whose behavior appears suspicious. Logan was the first airport in the country to use the system.
The Transportation Security Administration has rolled out a similar system at more than 40 of the nation’s largest airports. The TSA would not reveal what kinds of behavior authorities look for, but officials at Logan have previously said suspicious activity includes loitering without luggage, wearing heavy clothes on a hot day and watching security methods at the airport.
Airport officials insisted behavior-pattern recognition helps strengthen security and does not involve racial profiling. Critics say the behavioral-recognition technique carries an inherent risk of racial profiling.
“Massport is gratified that the jury found correctly that the behavioral assessment screening system adopted by Massport and State Police in 2002 did not violate the plaintiff’s rights and was not the cause of any injury that he might have suffered,” said Roscoe Trimmier, Jr., the attorney who represented Massport.
Logan officials maintained that race played no role in the decision to question Downing. The first trooper to ask Downing for identification was black, and three of the four officers who arrived later were also black, according to court documents.
The federal jury did not award damages, but Downing’s attorney, Peter Krupp, said he expected a settlement to be reached with state police.
In a statement following the verdict’s announcement, ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose applauded the jury in Downing’s case for upholding “an important principle.”
“In the United States, people cannot be stopped without cause by the police and required to produce identification and papers proving that they have a right to be in a particular place,” said Rose.
“Police and airport security personnel should be on the lookout for genuinely suspicious behavior, but the law is clear that they may not stop someone unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime or an act of terrorism might be committed. The use of behavioral characteristics, like those that were kept secret in this case, does not justify the detention of someone in a non-secure area.”
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.