Civil Rights Group Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Airport Stripper

March 10, 2011

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of a college student who was arrested for disorderly conduct after stripping down to running shorts at Richmond International Airport (RIC) and exposing a portion of the Fourth Amendment written on his chest.

Aaron Tobey was en route to his grandfather’s funeral on December 30, 2010, when he protested the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of whole-body imaging scanners and enhanced pat downs. Tobey, an architecture student at the University of Cincinnati, was waiting in line to pass through screening at the airport when he removed his shirt to show that he had written on his chest part of the text of the Fourth Amendment, which protects the privacy of individuals by forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

The TRI lawsuit alleges that agents of the TSA and RIC police deprived Tobey of his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The complaint also charges the named defendants with false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

“Aaron Tobey was arrested for exercising his right to free speech, which is clearly protected under the First Amendment,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Tobey was unduly seized by government agents in violation of the Fourth Amendment, despite the fact that he did nothing to disrupt airport routine.”

Despite successfully passing through the screening, Aaron was arrested and handcuffed. Government agents from agencies including the Joint Task Force on Terrorism questioned Tobey for approximately 90 minutes before citing him for disorderly conduct. Tobey did not resist or interfere with security officials or the screening procedures and eventually was permitted to board his flight.

Nonetheless, he was charged with disorderly conduct, a Class I misdemeanor under Virginia law, which carries penalties of up to $2,500 and 12 months in jail. The Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney eventually dropped the charges against Tobey after attorneys for The Rutherford Institute intervened.

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