Jan 26, 2021
A former male Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent pleaded no contest to a false imprisonment felony count on Friday after being accused of tricking a female airline passenger into displaying her breasts during a security check. Authorities confirmed the incident took place at Los Angeles International Airport in June 2019.
The perpetrator, Jonathan Lomeli, entered the plea and was sentenced to 60 days in county jail, two years of probation, and compelled to attend 52 classes addressing sexual compulsion. Lomeli, 23, was also barred from ever working as a security guard again, and charged with applying fraud or deceit to falsely imprison the woman. The California Attorney General’s office announced the sentence.
The sexually harassed survivor informed investigators that Lomeli claimed he had to look inside her bra to confirm she was not hiding any contraband, then instructed her to pull her pants away from her waist for a visual check, and finally instructed her to accompany him to a private room for a further one-on-one screening.
However, when the two were alone in an elevator en route to the private screening room, the unidentified survivor alleges that Lomeli told her he could perform the chest screening there, and then ordered her to lift her shirt and show her breasts. According to the woman, Lomeli then conducted a visual scan of her bare chest, and subsequently proceeded to look down her pants.
According to an Associated Press article, authorities confirmed that after the quasi-screening was completed, Lomeli told the woman she was free to leave, though not before issuing a final comment, allegedly referring to her having “nice breasts.”
The Los Angeles Daily News reported that the 2019 case was filed last February as part of a joint effort involving the California Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Air Marshals Service, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Airport Police, and the TSA.
In a public statement issued by the TSA last year following Lomeli’s arrest, the government agency indicated, “TSA does not tolerate illegal, unethical or immoral conduct. The behavior described in the state charging documents is unacceptable and an affront to the hard-working and committed members of our workforce. The individual charged with these crimes is no longer with the agency and we pledge to fully cooperate with the ongoing law enforcement investigation into this matter.”
The Los Angeles Daily News also reported that a declaration filed in support of an arrest warrant by a member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Carlos Llamas, indicated Lomeli told the woman – after having lost her identification and debit cards while traveling in Los Angeles – that she was required to accompany him to a private room to answer additional questions. Lomeli also claimed the survivor was required to undergo an additional private search after having already been patted down per protocol by a female TSA officer.
In a public statement, Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared, “We all have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in all places.” “And no one is entitled to use a position of power to violate those rights. Why can’t some men absorb that simple truth? This is 2021, not 1921. Today, Jonathan Lomeli learned this the hard way,” Becerra added.
Last February, CNN reported that a woman filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging she was sexually assaulted during a security screening at the Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina. The TSA agent allegedly proceeded to conduct a groin search under the woman’s clothing.
According to the lawsuit, while traveling from Asheville, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, the woman passed through security and, upon arriving at the body scanner, was alerted by a female TSA officer that she would have to undergo a groin search. The passenger asked if the search would involve touching her genitals, to which the officer, according to the complaint, said it would not.
Despite, according to the lawsuit, the passenger “clearly and unambiguously advising (the officer) that she would not consent to the touching of her genitals,” the officer proceeded to deviate from standard search protocols in multiple ways.
According to the complaint, after the officer “insisted” the woman spread her legs wider than the mat footprints indicated, the officer then slid her hands up the woman’s legs (eventually moving her hands inside her shorts and making direct contact with her genitals). Surveillance images corroborating the allegations within the complaint would later be produced as evidence. Against TSA standards, the front of the officer’s hands and fingertips made contact with the passenger’s genitals.
TSA website guidelines state, “Officers use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist.”
“As to what happened to my client, we believe the complaint speaks for itself, and my client doesn’t have anything further she wants to add at this time,” Jon Corbett, the woman’s attorney, said in a statement to CNN. “From my side, I can say that I have reason to think that my client was not the only victim of abuse at this airport, and I encourage anyone who encountered similar issues to be in touch.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in February 2020, alleged civil battery by the United States and unreasonable search by a Transportation Security Administration officer. The suit sought “actual damages for battery, loss of liberty, unconstitutional search, and any emotional damages” derived from claims that the female officer groped the woman’s vulva to “humiliate, dominate, and control” her, in addition to the officer’s personal self-gratification.
Following that 2020 incident, the TSA did not issue an official statement, as litigation was pending.
In 2010, the TSA instituted increased security screening measures, including pat-downs. Previously, the TSA had only been requiring passengers to submit to metal detector tests, and in certain scenarios a brief pat-down.
Due to increased security concerns, the TSA incorporated full-body scanning technology in most airports in what they have described as an effort to locate bombs and identify other security threats. Over the years these heightened security tactics have been instituted in nearly every major American airport.
According to the TSA’s website:
Pat-down procedures are used to determine whether prohibited items or other threats to transportation security are concealed on the person. You may be required to undergo a pat-down procedure if the screening technology alarms, as part of unpredictable security measures, for enhanced screening, or as an alternative to other types of screening, such as advanced imaging technology screening. Even passengers who normally receive expedited screening, such as TSA PreCheck™ passengers, may at times receive a pat-down.
A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, and feet. This includes head coverings and sensitive areas such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks. You may be required to adjust clothing during the pat-down. The officer will advise you of the procedure to help you anticipate any actions before you feel them. Pat-downs require sufficient pressure to ensure detection, and areas may undergo a pat-down more than once for the TSA officer to confirm no threat items are detected.
TSA officers use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist.
You will receive a pat-down by an officer of the same gender. TSA officers will explain the procedures to you as they conduct the pat-down. Please inform an officer if you have difficulty raising your arms or remaining in the position required; an external medical device; or areas of the body that are painful when touched. You may request a chair to sit if needed.
At any time during the process, you may request private screening accompanied by a companion of your choice. A second officer of the same gender will always be present during a private screening.
However, as the initial example regarding perpetrator Jonathan Lomeli illustrates, not all TSA pat-downs are conducted by officers of the same gender.
Unfortunately, in almost all cases passengers are not able to simply refuse a pat-down search. The only portion of the airport screening measures that can be refused is the electronic scanning process (which automatically designates you for a pat-down).
The new guidelines and protocols adhered to by TSA officers have raised a number of privacy and profiling questions and concerns among civil rights groups as well as attorneys. If you feel that any of the TSA requirements have not been adhered to or that your personal rights have been violated, it is recommended that you contact a dedicated sexual harassment or personal injury attorney immediately. An experienced lawyer will be able to help explain your options under the law and develop a strategy to properly demonstrate your case with the ultimate goal of winning your claim.
If you were assaulted in a manner similar to either of the above examples, or feel that your rights were violated in any way, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. Contact a Dordulian Law Group attorney today at 818-322-4056.
If you believe you have a claim for misconduct on the part of a TSA officer during a security screening, please do not hesitate to reach out to our skilled, experienced, and successful team of attorneys at DLG. We are here to answer any questions you may have and our consultations are always free. Visit our contact us page and review our results page to learn more about our 98% success record and history of recovering over $100 million for harmed and injured victims like you.
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