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Pat-downs ruling? Not so fast

Both sides will argue their case again on Thursday in the lawsuit challenging the security measure at Bucs games.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published October 20, 2005


[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
Defense attorney Rick Zabak, right, discusses photos of suicide bombers entered into evidence with retired Army Col. Michael Pheneger, left, who was called to give expert testimony, while John Goldsmith, attorney for the Bucs fan who filed the pat-downs lawsuit, reviews the photos over his shoulder.

TAMPA - To pat-down or not to pat-down - that is the question.

But it looks like Bucs fans will have to wait until next week for an answer. Two days after the Tampa Sports Authority voted to fight a lawsuit challenging the legality of NFL mandated fan pat-downs at Raymond James Stadium, a Hillsborough judge said Wednesday that he'll wait to hear more evidence before ruling on the case.

Last week, Gordon Johnston filed the lawsuit, charging that the body searches were an affront to constitutional protections against unreasonable and unwarranted searches. Joined in the suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, Johnston's attorneys argued the NFL had not received a specific threat and said the extra security could be costly for Hillsborough County taxpayers. On Wednesday, Johnston, a season ticket holder, told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Perry A. Little during an emergency hearing that fans deserve better treatment.

"Why do I need to lose my rights to go to a game," Johnston said. "It's humiliating. If I did that to my students do you know what would happen to me?"

Little said he would wait for both sides to present more evidence next Thursday before ruling.

The NFL ordered the pat-downs at the start of this season at all stadiums where its 32 teams play. Spokesman Greg Aiello said during a telephone interview Tuesday that league officials and team owners extended the requirement to all teams shortly after the July terrorist bombings in London.

"We think it's important to be proactive and do everything we can to protect our fans. We've conducted millions of these security screenings since 9/11," Aiello said. "We've been told repeatedly by security experts that our games are an attractive target."

In a courtroom packed with reporters and a small army of NFL attorneys, Johnston's attorney, John Goldsmith, called witnesses who questioned that logic, including Tampa Sports Authority chairman Patrick Manteiga. Although Manteiga voted with other board members Monday to fight the lawsuit, he was one of two who voted against the pat-downs.

"I did not feel they were going to be effective. I did not feel they were constitutional and I did not feel they were consensual," Manteiga said.

In the end, the Tampa Sports Authority agreed to do pat-downs, despite grumbling from some board members about the additional cost to taxpayers.

But, a security expert called to testify by Johnston's attorneys Wednesday said he was even more concerned about the effectiveness of the searches. Retired Army Col. Michael Pheneger said pat-downs above the waist would not keep a determined terrorist from concealing explosives in pants, an area not usually searched at Bucs games.

Explosives expert and former FBI agent Christopher Ronay said football games could be a target for would-be suicide bombers.

"They could be a very attractive target for terrorists, as could any venue that attracts a large number of people and that has significance for American values," Ronay said.

Initially, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears were the only teams that opted not to implement the security measure. In Cincinnati, Hamilton County officials raised questions about who would pay for extra security for Bengals' games. This week, however, negotiations led to a partial settlement between Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters and Bengals representatives, according to a court order Rick Zabak presented in court Wednesday. Under the agreement the Bengals will pay for the searches.

But the agreement hasn't resolved the issue for Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. Reached at his home Wednesday, Portune said he was not convinced that taxpayers would not get stuck with the bill for pat-downs. Noting that the settlement doesn't address thorny constitutional issues, he said commissioners are consulting with attorneys on whether to further fight the NFL policy.

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 20, 2005, 01:18:04]


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